Daniel Rosenblum arrived in Uzbekistan as the new U.S. Ambassador 15 months ago. His tenure has coincided with some of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s most notable reform pledges. But he has also been in Tashkent for some significant instances of backsliding on those commitments. In an exclusive discussion with VOA’s Navbahor Imamova, Rosenblum offers a personal assessment of the pace and scope of reforms, the impact of COVID, and evolving U.S. priorities with Tashkent.
Full transcript below:
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Thank you so much for joining us, Ambassador Rosenblum.
Ambassador Rosenblum: It's great to be here, thank you.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Well, Happy belated Independence Day!
Ambassador Rosenblum: Oh, thank you. Same to you. Mustaqillik bayramingiz bilan tabriklayman.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Sizi ham tabriklaymiz. There is a lot to discuss with you, and the pandemic has obviously been the biggest story. What has it been like to work with the Uzbek government in this period, let's say, since March?
Ambassador Rosenblum: Well, there have been some logistical challenges, of course. I've had almost no in person meetings since March. My first in person meeting, I think, was just a few weeks ago with the foreign minister. After the foreign ministry reopened to most staff, and I actually just came a few minutes ago with Minister Umurzakov, the Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade. That was in person. But that's the first time, I hadn't seen him in person in six months.
So it's affected our work. It's also affected diplomatic activity in general. No more diplomatic receptions or big events, and a lot of the communication that you do, a lot of the day to day business is normally done at events like that. So that's been a challenge. But in general, the government has continued to engage, we've continued to engage. We use technology, we use telephones, and the work goes on.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: So in terms of access and interactions, it's been challenging, but it's not like you have lost touch with the critical parts of the Uzbek government during this outbreak, right?
Ambassador Rosenblum: Right, no, not at all. Not all. I've maintained very close contact particularly with the foreign ministry, but not only. A few weeks ago I had a video meeting, an online meeting with Senator Narbaeva, the chairperson of the Senate, and I've met other ministers online over the months. So communication has continued. Not to mention, Uzbekistan's Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Vakhabov and I frequently talk to each other through video chats.
I believe that new structures had to be set up to address the challenge, and they did that.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I'm asking this because it's very interesting to watch the Uzbek government in action. As you know, this is a centralized system. The decision making process is quite centralized, and President Mirziyoyev, as you know, drives most of the decisions. I'm curious about your views about how you see the nature of the working of the Uzbek government now. What it took for the Uzbek government to adapt to this challenge.
Ambassador Rosenblum: Well, first of all, it is a very centralized system in general, that's absolutely true. I believe that new structures had to be set up to address the challenge, and they did that. Of course, there's this National Commission for Fighting Against the Coronavirus. Early on in the pandemic, I think a lot of issues were going to that commission, and we were often waiting for a decision to come from them. Very practical things even, such as having to do with transportation within the country and getting permission to go places and things like that.
But by now, and I think this has been true for many months now, decision making and communication and other aspects of how government functions have fallen back into more familiar patterns. I think that there was a period of adjustment that had to occur. But again, in terms of our interactions, there hasn't been a big change over these six months. The change has been going from in person to online, but as far as who we deal with, where we go to get issues solved, there hasn't been a big change.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: This has been the biggest challenge for the Mirziyoyev leadership, hasn't it? The crisis itself, so far.
Ambassador Rosenblum: It's been a big challenge for many leaders and many governments around the world. I mean, that's an understatement, of course.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: But for President Mirziyoyev, because for the longest time, as you know, here in Washington and in other parts of the world, we've constantly heard this: Well, he's very impressive. We can see that he's reform-minded, but he hasn't been tested yet. We'll see what happens when some kind of crisis hits. We will know more about his management style when there's a clear crisis. So far he has everything under control in Uzbekistan. And as you just said, this has been the biggest test for any leadership around the world. But specifically in Uzbekistan, for someone obviously who had been a prime minister for 13 years, but we didn't really know much about him and his management style then. But now he's the leader. How do you see him handling this pandemic so far?
Note: According to the American Embassy in Tashkent, recent ventilator donation valued at approximately $2.6 million builds upon over $6 million in previous U.S. COVID-19 assistance to Uzbekistan. Since 2000, Washington has invested more than $1 billion to support Uzbekistan's development, including $122 million in health assistance.
Arguably, maybe the loosening happened too soon. But we'll never know. You can't do the counterfactual of what would have happened if.
Ambassador Rosenblum: I think the steps that were taken early on after the first infection was discovered, were very decisive and made sense to those of us looking at it from a public health point of view. There was very quick and decisive lockdown, and closing of schools, closing of businesses. I think that helped to flatten the curve, so to speak, and prevent a big spike in infections that probably would have overwhelmed the healthcare system back in March and April.
The question then became, what do you do as things stabilize, and how quickly do you loosen up? Again, this is not a question unique to Uzbekistan. This is something that leaders based all over the world, and have made different choices, frankly. Different countries have made different choices. Arguably, maybe the loosening happened too soon. But we'll never know. You can't do the counterfactual of what would have happened if. But it may have happened too soon, such that we had a spike, and especially starting in July and through the most of August as well. Big spike in infections here.
The recent loosening of restrictions, after they had reimposed. It happened about two weeks ago. At the time it happened, some of us, and myself were included, were a little puzzled. Honestly, is this really time when infections are at the high point to be loosening? I know that the government is getting advised from a lot of foreign experts, as well as local professionals. Lot of countries are providing advice, and I think that there was some sound reasons for doing what they did when they did. Of course, balancing the economic considerations and employment and so on.
And we'll see. Now, will we see another spike after the loosening? So far we haven't. In general, I don't think everything that the government and the President Mirziyoyev have done in response to coronavirus has been perfect, but then that's true of so many other countries all over the world.
In general, I don't think everything that the government and the President Mirziyoyev have done in response to coronavirus has been perfect, but then that's true of so many other countries all over the world.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: What I hear very often, Ambassador Rosenblum, from the Uzbek authorities, from the officials, is that, "Well, nothing is routine anymore." Other major policy makers, other decision makers in the Uzbek government have also emerged during this process. We know more about the Ministry of Health now. We know more about the Ministry on Emergencies, the Ministry of Internal Affairs. What is it like to watch them from the ground as they do their work? So many, different, briefings on a day-to-day basis. We haven't had this much live reporting, live broadcast in Uzbekistan. Do you look at that as progress?
Ambassador Rosenblum: Well, it's a work in progress, right? As you imply, we're sort of seeing the government evolve as real time and respond to the situation. I do believe that on the whole, the government and the president have shown an admirable degree of transparency and openness, with the briefings and the information flow, the communication to the public has been on the whole very good. People will find things to criticize or complain about, no doubt, and I'm sure some of the criticisms are valid. But looking at it from the big picture, as I sit here and watch it unfold, I think it's been well handled from the standpoint of communication, openness, and so on.
One of the indicators of that, by the way, is the degree to which the government here and the Health Ministry in particular have been open to working with foreign partners, including the United States, and trying to get the best advice from the best experts all over the world. Every week I'm hearing about another contact, whether it's with Korea or China or Russia or Germany or the United States. In fact, maybe it's almost too much, in a sense that if you have too many different voices, it could cause confusion. But on the whole, I think it's a positive thing.
People will find things to criticize or complain about, no doubt, and I'm sure some of the criticisms are valid. But looking at it from the big picture, as I sit here and watch it unfold, I think it's been well handled from the standpoint of communication, openness, and so on.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: We obviously want the Uzbek government to be more transparent. We want this pandemic to serve as a trigger for them to really accelerate some of the reforms. For example, those that haven't taken place yet in terms of media freedom and access to information. We had Facebook blocked during this period, in the middle of the lockdown. They've been so many struggles, and as you know, there are some serious concerns, both internationally and internally about backsliding in many areas. Are you concerned?
Ambassador Rosenblum: I am concerned about certain recent developments that we're watching very closely, and that I think the world and Uzbekistan itself should pay close attention to. You mentioned media. There have been some recent problems with bloggers and journalists not being allowed to publish or being harassed or intimidated for things that they're trying to say.
The most prominent case, the one that we have been following really closely for the last two or three weeks of course, is Mr. Bobomurod Abdullayev, who was extradited last week from Kyrgyzstan. It so happens, actually, I just met with Mr. Abdullayev today. He came to meet with me. He's here now in Tashkent. He's free. He's been released from custody. But the problem is, and I've raised this with government officials directly, that there's an ambiguity about his status. There seems to continue to be an investigation going on into supposed crimes that he committed. But the charges are vague and unsubstantiated about what he supposedly has done. It doesn't appear to be anything more than having published things, and maybe accused of having published things that it wasn't even him writing.
So we're concerned, and we'd like to see the case resolved in a good way. The good way to resolve it: drop all the charges against [Abdullayev] and allow him to travel as he wishes. We're pushing for... But anyway, I should just say, having met him today, he was in relatively good spirits. A little fearful about what the future might hold, but at least grateful to be able to be with his family and not to be in detention anymore. So we're going to keep watching this closely.
I am concerned about certain recent developments that we're watching very closely, and that I think the world and Uzbekistan itself should pay close attention to.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: When you tweeted about his case, and we saw a retweet from the State Department, and so many international organizations were also addressing his case. Then he was released. He was extradited to Tashkent and he was released within a few hours. The way it was assessed: maybe pressure helps. Maybe these international calls really helped. Tashkent is listening to the international community. After all, Tashkent is listening to its partners like the United States. How did you feel when you saw his release?
Ambassador Rosenblum: I was very happy. I was very pleased to see that. Mostly because I think as you know, he's been through this before. I mean, two or three years ago he went through a whole process of being in prison and put on trial. So for him personally, I was very happy. I don't want to try to guess about why certain decisions were made, whether it was pressure, not pressure. We just will speak out when we think something's important to express, and that's what we did in this case.
I do think more broadly, just two observations I'll make. One is that there's no doubt that President Mirziyoyev and the government do pay attention to international opinion, and care about their reputation. Because they know that this affects things like attracting foreign investment, or your ability to get things done in the international community. But almost more than that, I also note that President Mirziyoyev's speeches over the past couple of years have highlighted the goals and aspirations for democratic reform. I remember listening to his speech on Constitution Day last December, where he spoke very eloquently about the importance of having independent media, freedom of expression, and how important that was to a country's development, even its economic development. So his words and intentions are very important for the country's future, and that's something that I believe is influencing decisions that are being made with respect to journalists and others.
I don't want to try to guess about why certain decisions were made, whether it was pressure, not pressure. We just will speak out when we think something's important to express, and that's what we did in this case.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: As you watch current Uzbekistan, what concerns you most? I know you care a lot about media freedom, obviously human rights and democratic reforms. But are there any negative directions that worry you?
Ambassador Rosenblum: There's a couple of areas that really important for progress to continue. The ones that we focus a lot on, in part because of our own laws, are forced labor, and trafficking in persons, and freedom of religion. In all of those areas, we've seen really remarkable progress over the past few years, and we have constant dialogue with the government about those issues. I have to say that I'm quite impressed by the commitment coming from the highest levels to make progress on trafficking in persons, on religious freedom, on forced labor. No question.
There are other areas that we do talk about as well where I think there maybe has to be as much if not more attention given, to make sure that gains continue. One of them is civil society development. The ability of NGOs, independent non-governmental organizations to operate freely, to register easily, and legally be able to operate, and to operate and do things that benefit society, which so many of them do. A lot of them are already doing great work providing social services or advocating for the rights of women, and other things. A lot could be done to improve the environment for civil society, for NGOs.
Then the other thing that I would point to, and this is something that the president talks about quite a bit too. That is rule of law and specifically corruption. This has become a big priority for the government, the fight against corruption. Again, I applaud the steps that have been taken so far. For example, creating this anti-corruption agency, and other things that are being done kind of legislatively. But I think the population in Uzbekistan, the people and the government will benefit tremendously from real progress on tackling corruption, and then improving the environment for civil society. Those two things I think are key.
... there's no doubt that President Mirziyoyev and the government do pay attention to international opinion, and care about their reputation.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: You mentioned the development of civil society, and as we know, there are several American organizations who have been struggling to get registered. I mean, we can talk about the ABA (American Bar Association), and there are other development groups that would like to not only get registered, but do projects across the country, and they say they want to help Uzbekistan. How involved are you in that process? Specifically, let's say, with the Ministry of Justice, and other parts of the Uzbek government who look at these applications and these issues?
Ambassador Rosenblum: First of all, I'm very involved in that. This is something that we care very much about because it affects our ability to provide technical assistance that will help the President's reforms succeed. You mentioned some organizations. I mean, we've got American NGOs who are experts on rule of law and judicial reform. Experts on media development, experts on education, experts on trafficking in persons. The ones I named all correspond with specific NGOs who have been trying to get registered, some of them for a couple of years already, and have been very frustrated with their inability to do so.
So we're in very active talks with the Ministry of Justice, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We just learned last week that one of our implementing partners, as we call them, these NGOs that do the projects, has gotten registered. It's an organization called RTI International, which is based in North Carolina, in the United States, and they are responsible for carrying out with funding from USAID our very big and multi-year education reform program. That was a key one, and so we're very happy that they finally are registered. But we're looking, we've got a list of maybe four or five others who we're hoping eventually get there.
[The registration of NGOs] is something that we care very much about because it affects our ability to provide technical assistance that will help the President's reforms succeed.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: As we talk, as we engage the Uzbek authorities, very often they're very defensive, especially when they get criticized or when they see things being framed as a backwards stab, as a backsliding. They say that "This or that case should not really be serving as a basis to draw," as I said earlier, to paint things in white and black, that there is a lot happening within the system that is very positive, that everybody's working incredibly hard, and people in the system itself believes in the reforms.
So there are a lot of arguments within the system, also many within the private sector, by the way, who argue that we're not really providing an actual picture when we look at things and say, "Wow, look at this investment project not working, or look at this organization that's struggling to register." So they want the international community, media focus more on the positive. Where do you see the reform process? What kind of progress that you see that really took place for the last year?
Ambassador Rosenblum: So there are some areas that we're particularly focused on, as you mentioned. Most of which we can back up with some technical assistance and exchanges and other things to focus on. The four that I usually mention, first and foremost are rule of law and judicial reform, education, agriculture, and health. Those four. That's where kind of the bulk of our assistance dollars and resources go, and where we put a lot of attention.
I would say I've seen just in the year plus that I've been here, I think it's 15 months now, by the way, that I've been in Tashkent. Loving living here. But I have seen progress in all of those areas. It's more so in some than others. It's more halting in some areas. There's a lot of movement on education reform. That's very positive. We've got great partners, both in the Minister of Public Education, and the Minister of Higher Education, that we're working with, and the reforms being undertaken are sweeping, and not easy to implement. Trying to have everybody who graduates after secondary school be fluent in English or at least proficient in English. I mean, this is a huge undertaking, and there's a lot other ones that I didn't even mention.
... there are some areas that we're particularly focused on.. The four that I usually mention, first and foremost are rule of law and judicial reform, education, agriculture, and health.
But we're seeing incremental progress already. Obviously the coronavirus, the pandemic is a bit of a setback because it makes it difficult both to implement reforms and for us to do our programs to support the reform is difficult. We've seen some progress in health as well and the work we're doing in health. Especially on TB, which was our big focus. Now of course, the pandemic has really thrown a lot of that up in the air. But the reform programs, the intentions are in place, and a lot of the implementation is happening.
Agriculture too, I want to mention. In fact, in some ways the agricultural reform is the most transformational that is going on right now, as I think you know and many people watching this will know, this will be the first year where the cotton harvest will be conducted with no quota system. The quota system has been abolished, and that's part of a broader agricultural reform moving towards a much more private sector model that's transformational and very ambitious. Has it succeeded? No. It's not there yet. None of these things that I've mentioned are there yet. But they are works in progress with a lot of political commitment to them.
Of the four that I mentioned, I think the one where I've seen less progress so far, although I think there are things happening behind the scenes, is the rule of law area. Maybe in some ways it's harder to reform, because some of the kind of habits and ways of doing things are really hard to change. The whole mindset of how the judicial system operates. I mean, I think as you know, under the Soviet model, and the earlier years of Uzbekistan's independence, if you went to court, you were basically found guilty. If charges were brought, it meant you were going to be guilty. The presumption of innocence wasn't a big thing in the system. That's changing, but it's going to change slowly because you've got to change people's mindsets, and the way that they approach everything.
So again, we're very engaged in all these areas, and we've seen real progress, but it's slow, and it's not going to happen, I suspect, in the time that I'm here in Uzbekistan. I'm only going to see incremental progress. I'm not going to see full achievement.
I suspect in the time that I'm here in Uzbekistan, I'm only going to see incremental progress. I'm not going to see full achievement.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Here is what we see right now within the system that is supposed to be or is charged to implement the reform. There is a group of people, who are truly reform-minded, pushing hard, and they believe in the agenda. They have the support of President Mirziyoyev. Then there is a group of people, who are vehemently against it. They don't think Uzbekistan should be going down that path. It's very dangerous, they say. It discredits the state's standing, and they feel like if you have a strong control over the system, people will respect your more, rather than if you give them too much freedom, they argue that they stop believing in your authority, in general. They are very defensive of what the state has been in Uzbekistan for the last nearly 30 years, since independence.
Then there is a group of people, segments, I'm talking about, or contingents, and they say, "Fine, we will be slow in some areas, but we can be faster in some areas. Let's reform." As you said as well, it will take time, we won't achieve all of our goals in the next five years, maybe not even in the next 10 years, they say. But we have to keep on pushing forward, they say.
How do you see that? Because you and I, we've talked about these resistant forces within the system. There are people who don't want those kinds of changes. For example, in the rule of law sector, justice system, for example, or media freedom. Maybe we shouldn't give too much freedom to journalists; look at what bloggers are doing, they say. They're very cautious.
So actually in practice, on a day to basis, I'm not talking a lot to the people who might be speaking out against the reforms. Because the people that I'm working with are the ones who are trying to make it work, who are trying to make it succeed.
Ambassador Rosenblum: So, yeah, you raise a really interesting question that I think is on everyone's mind, has been on everyone's mind since President Mirziyoyev launched this reform effort almost four years ago. That is, how do people in the system, in positions of authority or responsibility line up? Are there pro-reform and anti-reform forces? I guess I'm not in a great position to analyze that. Those issues of internal debate and potentially resistance. In order for me to effectively do my job, I have to let that go, in a sense. You know what I mean? That's an internal matter for Uzbekistan, for its government to work out. I have no role in that, except that we do see a role for us to support the stated reform goals of President Mirziyoyev, which is what we're trying to do through all the things I talked about earlier. So actually in practice, on a day-to-day basis, I'm not talking a lot to the people who might be speaking out against the reforms. Because the people that I'm working with are the ones who are trying to make it work, who are trying to make it succeed.
The one thing I would point out, though, about all of this is, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between what I would call active resistance and passive resistance. Right? Also to associate motives with that, right? So, some of the quote-unquote, "resistance" is really matter of old habits dying hard. Of people who were raised in a certain system, who just can't get beyond that. Their whole lives, their whole education has instilled certain ways of doing business that are just really hard to break. It's not necessarily, and again, I'm not talking about any specific individuals. I'm just generalizing here. I don't think it's necessarily in many cases malign intent or, "We don't like what the president said, and so we're going to sabotage it."
It's not that. It's more just... doing things a different way. Fundamental things. To take one example of a fundamental change, the President often repeats the line, or has in the past, "The people do not exist to serve the state," it's the other way around. The state must serve the people. Even though that seems almost kind of, what's the word? A truism, right? It's actually a very profound way of changing the way you view the role of government, that's different than the way it was in the past. I'm not sure that all civil servants at all levels of governments, regions, cities, so on, have adopted that philosophy yet. But again, not necessarily because they're part of a resistance, but simply because they cannot change the way that they have always done things.
So I have no doubt that there may be those who actively resist or don't like what's going on, and they're trying to frustrate it. But I do think a lot of the problem is simply kind of mindset change, cultural mindset change.
I don't think it's necessarily in many cases malign intent or, "We don't like what the president said, and so we're going to sabotage it."
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: So far what I have heard most from those who are resisting or those who are resisting the pace of reforms, for example, is that they say "We have to defend the image of the state. People should look at it as the highest power in the country." There has to be some exceptions when it comes to criticizing the state, when it comes to criticizing the leadership in general. So they feel like with more freedom of expression, with more media freedom, that's being endangered in some way.
That's when America gets mentioned and how democratic this system is. Because, as you know, people discuss America a lot in Uzbekistan. They discuss America democracy, and what America has been doing around the world, and the values that the United States promotes, whether it's about religious freedom or freedom to choose, freedom to express, freedom to elect leaders. This is why I'm raising this... What would you say to those who say, "We're afraid that people will start losing respect to the authorities. We want to maintain that. That's what keeps the state together, that's what keep political establishments together."
Ambassador Rosenblum: Well, you're raising some very profound questions, that people are debating all over the world right now. I don't have the ultimate answers to them. I wouldn't necessarily be able to convince somebody who asks that question to me here in Uzbekistan. I'll just say the following. First of all, every country needs to find its own path to a more democratic society, and it's not always going to be the same path. We certainly have never told anyone here, I don't think any of my partners in the diplomatic community have said, "You must adopt the American model," or "You must adopt the French model" or whatever, the Japanese model. It's really going to have to be an Uzbek model, a model of Uzbekistan, its own. Hopefully borrowing from and learning from the best practices and the best experiences of countries all over the world.
Uzbekistan will have to achieve its own balance of kind of competing imperatives. Right? You just alluded to one of those balances that's always hard to strike, and that is freedom and order, on the two sides. How much freedom is too much? How much order is enough or sufficient? At what point does the desire for order translate into repression of freedom? I'm not sure that any country has it exactly right. I wouldn't say that the United States, again, is the paradigm that everyone should seek to find.
It's really going to have to be an Uzbek model, a model of Uzbekistan, its own... Uzbekistan will have to achieve its own balance of kind of competing imperatives.
I do think that we believe that there are certain universal values that are in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, that everyone is signed up to, including Uzbekistan, that should be respected in every country in the world. But that's more about respecting specific rights than it is about exactly how you structure the system, and what powers you give to different levels of government, and how that balances out the rights of the citizen versus the rights of the state.
So again, complicated issue. Every country is struggling with it in their own way. As Uzbekistan moves towards the goals, President Mirziyoyev has very explicitly laid out., I hope it will, and there's every sign that it is doing this, look at the rest of the world, and find examples that can be applied here successfully.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: How have the priorities of the United States changed in Uzbekistan because of COVID?
Ambassador Rosenblum: Because of COVID, we've been focusing an awful lot on our health activities, that's kind of obvious. But we've provided a lot of assistance over the past six months, specifically related to fighting the pandemic. We just had a delivery a couple days ago of 200 ventilators to help critically ill COVID patients breathe and hopefully survive. Those ventilators, actually I'm going tomorrow to a little handover ceremony with the deputy minister of health, and then they'll be distributed to hospitals and healthcare facilities all over the country.
The same priorities we had before remain, and we've tried to maintain them as much as we can, but COVID has taken over a lot of our bandwidth.
But that's only one piece of the assistance we've been providing over the past six months. There's a lot of technical advice through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and help with lab testing. A lot of what we've done is related to the testing capacity of Uzbekistan, to test for COVID. So that's become priority number one, frankly, in the past six months, and that's changed.
What we've tried to do, though, is not lose sight of the longer term agendas we have, and the longer term collaboration with Uzbekistan. I think we've done an okay job of maintaining that focus. We had just a few weeks ago, maybe it was a month ago or so, our Trafficking in Persons Report came out for 2020. That was an opportunity to engage in a very robust dialogue with the government about what steps it needs to take to next year improve to the next level. Because it's still on the so-called Tier 2 Watch List, which is not a good place to be. You want to be in Tier 2. Because if you're in the Tier 2 Watch List, you could drop down pretty easily to Tier 3. So we've had a really robust dialogue, including when I met with Senator Narbaeva, Chairwoman Narbaeva, who's also the head of the National Anti-Trafficking Commission here, to go over the report in detail and the steps that Uzbekistan's taken to address it.
So your question was about priorities. The same priorities we had before remain, and we've tried to maintain them as much as we can, but COVID has taken over a lot of our bandwidth.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: You have a bilateral relationship with Uzbekistan. Then there is also regional dimension, where you're working with Uzbekistan on the region. For example, within C5+1, we've seen at least three meetings for the last one year, just within the C5+1 platform. I've asked this question before too, but I still want to get an answer from you today, what has been achieved, in your view, through this platform? Any tangible results so far that we can look and say, "This is what cooperation means."
Ambassador Rosenblum: We have, as you mentioned, had a very active past year in C5+1. As someone who was there at the founding back in 2015...
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I remember that, yes... President Karimov wearing a hat, a stylish hat.
Ambassador Rosenblum: Those memories, very fresh. But because I was involved, it's very gratifying for me to see the progress that's been made, the frequencies of meetings. But of course what everyone wants to know, and your question implies, is what are the tangible outcomes? What's come from it? So I would just say a couple things. One, first of all, politically it's been very beneficial in the sense that the countries talk more regularly with one another and compare priorities, and we engage with them all together as a group. Just having that frame for viewing the region and its problems, I think has been helpful. It's become a habit now, that we're used to just talking in that group.
There have been some specific projects under the umbrella of C5+1 that I think have achieved some important things.
There have been some specific projects under the umbrella of C5+1 that I think have achieved some important things. For example, one of the projects relate to trade across borders, facilitating easier to sell goods within Central Asia. USAID is responsible for managing that project. I think they have some numbers, some statistics. Of course, all that's been overtaken by the pandemic and the effect that that's had on trade and so on. But showing that in fact, that the C5+1 projects have helped to facilitate more agricultural exports and other goods going across borders. Streamlining customs procedures, for example.
I think also on the security side, one of the things we've done under C5+1 is have a five country dialogue about issues related to returnees from conflict zones. So for example, the former terrorist fighters coming back from Syria and Iraq, and how to reintegrate them into society. You remember back in 2019, there were a series of returns coming back to especially Kazakhstan. A large number came back to Kazakhstan. But many, several hundred, came here to Uzbekistan and the Tajiks brought some back there. So actually, we've been able to facilitate this exchange of ideas and best practices of how to reintegrate people into society. I think that's been very, very useful.
So I could probably cite a few other specific examples, but the general idea here is to build a sense of regional common purpose, and sharing of experience and best practices. For that alone, I think it's been worthwhile.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: You've been very generous time, Ambassador Rosenblum. I really, really appreciate this. I have one more question before I will let you go. We are about two month away from the elections here in the United States. The campaign is heating up, and I know you, as a diplomat, you won't comment on the domestic politics or on the campaign, and you will definitely not take sides. That much I know about you as a diplomat. But one constant question that we get from our audience: What would the results mean for Central Asia and for Uzbekistan, specifically? This question has to deal with the notion of continuity and change. What happens when presidential elections take place in the United States? What happens when there is a new presidential term? What happens when there is a new presidency in Washington? What does this mean for the US foreign policy in general in terms of shifts? What happens? What can the people in Uzbekistan and rest of the region expect following the elections? What should they be ready for?
Ambassador Rosenblum: Yeah, yeah. That's an excellent question, and I get that a lot directly from people here too, of course. First of all, having been through a number of transitions myself in my career. Because I started in the State Department in the second half of the Clinton administration, in the late 90s. Worked four years with the Clinton Administration, eight years with the George W. Bush administration, eight years with the Barack Obama administration, now four with Trump.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: This is what I mean when I said I know you as a diplomat. You've seen a lot of transitions.
Ambassador Rosenblum: I have, I have. One thing that stands out to me, because for all those years, I've been working in the former Soviet space, primarily, that's been my area of focus, is the degree of continuity in policy. There has been much more continuity than change, in terms of the basic US policy. The support for sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. That's kind of like the bedrock of our approach for the region, has remained consistent.
One thing that stands out to me, because for all those years, I've been working in the former Soviet space, primarily, that's been my area of focus, is the degree of continuity in policy. There has been much more continuity than change...
What I also have observed though, which people should be aware of looking ahead to January, is that when there is a change of administration. Of course, we don't know whether there will be or not. If there's a Democratic administration coming in, it does take time for them to get organized. So there's often a period that might seem like neglect. Or less attention, and that's really more a function of just getting people appointed into positions, figuring out whether they want to change the way things are structured in some way.
But finally, six months in, nine months in, sometimes 12 months in, things settle down, and it often reverts to something that looks a lot like it was before. That's been my experience. So I expect the same thing to happen this time, if there's a change. Of course, if President Trump is reelected, there will be a lot of continuity, I expect. Although there will be some personnel changes, of course, in different government departments, including the State Department, probably.
But the good news is that as a career ambassador, a career diplomat, I expect that I will remain, regardless of the outcome. No one has promised me that, but that's the pattern, that's usually the pattern. So I will try to bring as much continuity as I can to our relationship with Uzbekistan.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: People who usually deal with Central Asia here in Washington are also mainly career diplomats, people who have been serving in the region or around the region for years. Thank you so much for talking to us, Ambassador Rosenblum. We really appreciate this. We're very happy to connect with you.
Ambassador Rosenblum: You're welcome. It was really my pleasure, Navbahor. Thank you. You ask tough questions but very good ones.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: There's a lot to talk about Uzbekistan, and we'll continue these conversations. Hopefully, see you soon is Tashkent.
Ambassador Rosenblum: I hope so. Very good.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Thank you.
Ambassador Rosenblum: All the best.