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Defense Secretary Thanks 'Stalwart' Uzbekistan for Support in War on Terror

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, Feb. 24, 2004 – Expressing America's gratitude for Uzbekistan's help in the war on terror, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met here today with key leaders of this former Soviet republic.

Rumsfeld arrived this afternoon from Kuwait, and met with President Islam Karimov and Defense Minister Kodir Ghulomov to discuss what the secretary described as a wide range of military, political and economic issues.

A senior defense official told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld that the United States has about 1,000 military people and some contractors in Uzbekistan working on support operations and humanitarian missions at Karshi- Khanabad, known as "K2." Service members populate Camp Stronghold Freedom and an airfield there in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

At a news conference following his meetings with the Uzbek leaders, Rumsfeld said the United States and Uzbekistan have a framework of a strategic partnership with military-to-military relationships, and look forward to strengthening political and economic relationships between the countries. The secretary cited Uzbekistan's participation in NATO's "partnership for Peace" program as part of the path toward that stronger relationship.

"The relationship between our two countries is important to us," he said, "and we certainly value the friendship of Uzbekistan and the people of Uzbekistan, and are grateful for the stalwart, steadfast support in our efforts against terrorism."

Rumsfeld said thanks to Uzbekistan's cooperation, "we have benefited greatly in our effort to liberate the people of Afghanistan. A prosperous, successful Uzbekistan is important to stability in the region, he added.

Uzbekistan is about the size of California, and is home to about 25 million people. It borders Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Rumsfeld steered clear of addressing in detail whether the country's human rights record was part of today's discussions, but a broad range of topics "political and human rights issues, as well as economic issues and military-to-military relations" are discussed "in all our meetings," he said. "Relationships between sovereign nations tend not to be on a single pillar," the secretary said. "They tend to involve economic, political, in this case human rights, as well as security issues."

With the Defense Department looking at redistributing its forces and changing its military "footprint" around the world, speculation rises about plans to establish bases in nearly every country Rumsfeld visits. Uzbekistan is no exception.

The secretary said that while no final decisions have been made, the United States has "no plans to put permanent bases in this part of the world." He added, however, that periodic support or access to specific "operating sites" that would not be permanent bases is one way of attaining the flexibility that is key to reshaping the U.S. military presence around the world.

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