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AKIPRESS.COM - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs William Todd talked about relations of the United States with the Central Asian states, situation in Afghanistan, Kyrgyz-American relations in an interview with AKIpress.
William Todd traveled to Bishkek to attend the U.S. – Central Asian Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council Meeting and meeting of the C5+1 Economic and Regional Connectivity working group.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit?
A: First and foremost, I would like to thank our Kyrgyz hosts for bringing the United States and Central Asian countries together here in Bishkek to focus on improving economic connectivity and prosperity in the region. Simply put, I am here because the United States supports stability and prosperity for the people of Central Asia. We are working together to enhance a spirit of cooperation and foster an open environment for international trade and investment through two main lines of effort: the U.S. – Central Asian Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council Meeting, and the C5+1 Economic and Regional Connectivity working group.
TIFA and the related working group will advance issues of mutual interest, such as customs policy issues and women’s economic empowerment, and provide a framework for our governments to continue cooperation on important economic issues. But most importantly, these efforts will promote job growth and facilitate business contacts across the region.
More broadly, the sustainable economic growth of Asia will bring millions of people out of poverty, spur health advances and innovation, and help bring people together. We want Central Asia to play a key role in that growth – and these initiatives will help the region’s economies better connect to Asia’s largest global markets.
The United States is proud to be a partner in these efforts, and the U.S. delegation that has come with me is a manifestation of the importance we place on this region. We have brought an outstanding team, with decades of experience dealing with the issues we have on the table before us. As we celebrate the 25th year of bilateral relations, we are grateful for the partnerships we have developed over the years with each country in Central Asia.
Q: What are the advantages of the C5 + 1 format and how will the C5+1 format help the New Silk Road initiative?
A: The five Central Asian countries and the United States created the C5+1 as a platform to deepen our regional cooperation. Secretary Kerry visited the region last fall to engage in robust dialogue with each Central Asian country, and to bring together all the foreign ministers to deepen regional cooperation. The visit was the beginning of a renewed partnership.
During this visit, the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and the Secretary of State of the United States, issued a Joint Declaration of Partnership and Cooperation, known as the Samarkand Declaration. That document established the C5+1 framework to enhance cooperation across the region.
So the meetings we are having this week build on the momentum of many years of cooperation, and on Secretary Kerry’s historic visit to Central Asia last fall to deepen our regional partnerships, promote economic growth, and foster regional integration.
When Secretary Kerry and the Central Asian Foreign Ministers launched C5+1 last November, they agreed it should not just be a forum for discussing issues, but should be a platform to develop concrete projects that would be carried out jointly by the six countries. I look forward to our discussions of how to achieve the vision the Ministers laid out in Samarkand. I am confident we will have a robust discussion and a chance to listen to many perspectives. This meeting should be a truly collaborative, cooperative process and an honest exchange of views.
The C5+1 includes thematic working groups on regional economics and trade, environmental protection and renewable energy, and regional security threats. These working groups will prepare areas of further cooperation including concrete projects leading up to the next C5+1 ministerial this summer in the United States.
Achieving strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth in today’s global economic environment can be challenging. Improving trade, transit, and investment opportunities in Central Asia requires advancing the “software” as well as the “hardware.” By software, I mean legal and regulatory frameworks, increased production of competitive goods and services, and market access. The hardware is the tangible infrastructure, such as reliable roads, railways, bridges, and border crossing facilities. Improving both hardware and software is necessary for enabling increased growth and regional trade. One of our principal goals is to improve both the software and hardware of trade in the region.
Working together, we can diversify the economies of Central Asia and develop stronger trade and investment ties for a better future for all citizens of the region.
Q: Is Afghanistan a weak link in this initiative and to the region? How does drug trafficking from Afghanistan play into regional dynamics, including from security and economic perspectives?
A: The United States has a deep and abiding interest in seeing Afghanistan stabilize and reform, and develop its political institutions and economy. Ensuring that it will never again become a sanctuary for violent extremists will benefit the entire region and the world.
We appreciate that the people of Central Asia have direct interests in what happens in Afghanistan. The stability of Afghanistan affects all the countries of Central Asia. We also recognize and deeply value the help the Central Asian countries have provided to promote security in Afghanistan.
Regarding illegal narcotics trafficking, this is indeed a serious problem for the region, one on which we have focused for years. Close cooperation is required to address it. That is why we support the Central Asia Regional Information and Coordination Center for Combatting Illicit Trafficking of Narcotics (CARICC) in Almaty, as well as other initiatives, and work bilaterally with all the countries of the region.
While our combat mission has ended, our commitment to the government and people of Afghanistan has not. We see Afghanistan as a partner that deserves our support as it continues to develop economically and democratically.
Q: Since the Secretary of State's visit to Central Asia, have there been any significant developments in Kyrgyz-U.S. relations?
A: The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic. This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of relations between our two nations. Over the course of the past 25 years, we have become close partners in many areas. This partnership has created jobs, improved education for the next generation, and helped keep families safe and healthy.
And now we are working together to find ways to expand that partnership, including in the economic sphere. We expect our cooperation with the Kyrgyz Republic to bring access to new ideas, new technologies, and economic opportunities for the next 25 years and beyond.
During my current visit to Bishkek, I have also had the opportunity for meetings at the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration. We continue to talk with our partners here about ways to draw our two countries closer, to work together toward common objectives.
Q: Are there any intentions to sign a new U.S. – Kyrgyz bilateral agreement?
A: The United States and the Kyrgyz Government have an ongoing dialogue on issues of shared interest. We appreciate their willingness to engage with us to strengthen our partnership. We are committed to finding ways forward that meet the interests of both our nations on the basis of trust, equality, and mutual respect.