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U.S. understands Uzbekistan's neutrality, expects balance with Ukraine

U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum in an exclusive interview with Voice of America's Navbahor Imamova, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 25, 2022
U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum in an exclusive interview with Voice of America's Navbahor Imamova, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 25, 2022

U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum says Washington understands and respects the Mirziyoyev administration's neutrality on Russia’s war in Ukraine and why it is not explicitly denouncing Vladimir Putin's aggression. But Rosenblum hopes the non-criticism does not mean a lean toward Russia and that expressions of Uzbek neutrality are real, urging Tashkent to open up space for free, balanced and accurate information about the war. In an exclusive interview in Tashkent, VOA's Navbahor Imamova and Ambassador Rosenblum discussed a range of pressing and fast-moving issues, including how Uzbekistan could mitigate the secondary impacts of U.S. sanctions on Russia, the Taliban's desire for diplomatic recognition, Uzbekistan bid to join the World Trade Organization, and lessons for from the rapid succession of crises in nearby Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

Full transcript:

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Ambassador Rosenbloom, it's wonderful to be speaking to you at the Embassy in Tashkent. We've always had conversations in Washington now that I think about it, and it's super special actually to be sitting like this next to you after two years of the pandemic, you know, with so much virtual communication. It feels weird, actually.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: It does. It feels weird to be sitting in the same room, as people. You're talking to them and to see their full faces, and not through a mask.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: And the embassy seems to be back full scale at work.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: It is, yeah.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: No more telework for you.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: No more telework… Although I have to say that the telework habits we developed during the pandemic will be useful and it allows us to do more things and be more flexible, but we're all back at work. We're not even any longer wearing masks in the embassy. And that's obviously a reflection of the improvement in the COVID situation. But you know, we're a little cautious because we've seen in some other countries in the world COVID come back in new forms. So, we remain vigilant. But it's a great change and it allows us to do things like this.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: We saw a long line of visa applicants outside, excited, impatient. Nervous waiting for their appointments, and we see a crowded embassy, so in a way back to normalcy.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, we're basically back to normal operations in our consular section as well. We're trying to make up for lost time. There's a big backlog of people who are interested in both immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Our consular section is working through that and trying to reduce the backlog. I do know that some people, because I hear this when I just meet people out in the city or around the country, are frustrated because it's not so easy to get an interview sometimes, you know. You have to schedule an interview for the visa. And there's so much interest and people are immediately filling up the slot. But we're going to work on that. We're going to try to meet all the needs and frankly, it's gratifying to know that there's so much interest in the United States, in visiting our country and it shows that, I think, the depth of the ties between our two nations.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Yeah, I mean, every Uzbek has an American dream. That's what we say. I just interviewed Consular Chief Rob Romanowsky. It was a great interview and we discussed how you don't have a role in that process, how U.S. ambassador in any country doesn't and should not interfere into the consular services process.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Right.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: But I'm sure you must get asked a lot by ordinary Uzbeks and by others, including I'm suspecting here, officials, about visa processes.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yes.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: What is your answer usually? How do you get away?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Well, from that situation, you're absolutely right. I do get asked a lot, even on random occasions. I remember once I was on a flight flying back from Germany. I had gone to Germany for a holiday, just a weekend. I was on an Uzbekistan Airways flight from Frankfurt to Tashkent. And the person sitting next to me recognized me and immediately began asking about a visa. So, what I say when I said then and what I say to people is the first thing is as ambassador there's actually a wall that's put up legally, that I'm not part of that process that I'm not supposed to be. Part of the decision-making process or even to influence it, so that's the first thing I say. They usually don't believe me when I tell them that. But I tell them that's the truth. Occasionally what I can do is at least give them information about who they should call or what they should do or explain the context. For example, during the pandemic when we were so limited, I had to explain people why we were so limited. We were still issuing some visas but on a very limited basis. So that's what I can do. But I'm not going to be able to solve their visa problem. I refer them to Rob and his team.

Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum
Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Yeah, very often at the Voice of America, we get messages from our viewers and fans who say, “Hey, can you please talk to American ambassador. Let him open the process…” Especially during the pandemic, you know, when the services were not fully provided, and things were restricted… We do our best to guide them. But it's a constant conversation.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: It is. And you know it's actually important, I think, for people to understand why it is the way it is or what I was saying about this wall that set up between the ambassador and my role and the Consular Section and the Consular Chief. The idea is that there are rules governing how we issue visas and the criteria that are required for people to gain entry to the United States. And the people who know those rules and who are technically competent should be making the decision. It should not be influenced by political considerations or personal preference. You know, I like this person, so you should give them a visa. And in order to avoid that we've set up this system of separation.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: A good example to show how corruption could be avoided, can be or should be avoided. A lot changed throughout the pandemic as you know, and a lot changed since last year since our conversation. Afghanistan was a priority at the time. We talked about what would be the future of Afghanistan, what Uzbeks wanted in this process and how you were working very closely with the Uzbek government to make sure that all the political parties in Afghanistan would find a common ground and take Afghanistan to a new stage. And now we have the Taliban in power in Kabul. And I've had several conversations with Uzbek officials about this… Before we get into deeper into this, what were the recent visits about in Washington? We had Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov visit Washington early March And, then a few days later, Investments and Foreign Trade Minister Sardor Umurzakov was also there. What was the mission?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Well, you know first of all, both officials, the foreign minister and the deputy prime minister hadn't been in the United States for a while. Both of them thought it was important to renew dialogue and to kind of show the face of Uzbekistan in the United States. And I think that's very important to do on a regular basis. I think the foreign minister had last been in June of last year.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: That's when he met the Biden administration.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, exactly. There's a reason to keep the dialogue going and do it in person when possible and again because of the pandemic improving it was it was easier. I think there's no question and, you know, I think everyone who's watching this will agree that the geopolitical and economic situation in the world and in the region has gotten very complex in the last six months. That is the reason why we need to have an intensified dialogue about our bilateral relationship, ways that we can help Uzbekistan to deal with the complications of the geopolitics and of the economic stresses and, you know, ways that we can cooperate and collaborate towards the goal of a more stable region and a more prosperous region. So, in both the case of the prime minister the deputy prime minister, they had specific issues. They wanted to discuss their concerns, and complications whether it was the war that's happening in Ukraine, the situation in Afghanistan, dealing with the government that's there, now the Taliban run government, how to keep momentum going for regional cooperation between Central Asia and South Asia and within Central Asia. Whole range of issues they were bringing to the table.

And we had a lot of chance for a good, frank discussion about them and trade and economics as well. As part of bringing stability and prosperity to the region, how can we increase our bilateral trade? How can we get more interest from American companies to invest here in Uzbekistan and create jobs? That was again all part of the dialogue. You know, obviously, the focus was a little slightly different between the two visits. The deputy prime minister's visit was very focused on economic relations and the trade and investment and so on, including by the way, Uzbekistan's bid to join the WTO that was that featured heavily. Whereas the foreign minister's visit was more focused on the sort of relations within the region, the challenges we face with both respect to Ukraine and Afghanistan. But they were productive visits, I would say. There was a lot of good information was passed and a lot was achieved.

US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum
US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: The government has been quite discreet though about these visits. They haven't really publicized, and this was intentional as far as I know. It's more like behind the scenes, and because these are sensitive times, as you know, and this was all happening as we were still trying to find out what Tashkent’s position would be regarding the war in Ukraine and regarding the Russian aggression, the Russian war on Ukraine. And things have cleared a little bit with Foreign Minister Kamilov explaining policy in the Uzbek Senate recently. Do you, as Uzbekistan's strategic partner, understand Uzbekistan's position? How clear is it for you? Where does Tashkent stand on this?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: I think we do understand it and appreciate it and respect the constraints and the the kind of tough choices that Uzbekistan faces. Again, the two visits that we discussed had lots of opportunity to really understand Uzbekistan's position. I think that was, you know, part of the purpose of these visits was to explain that. We deeply respect the fact that due to geography and history, Uzbekistan has to balance a lot of interests and has to get along with its neighbors, especially its neighbors who are also trading partners and important sources of investment. In the case of, for example, Russia, you know, a lot of labor migration... You are then sending money home, which is an investment in the economy here. Those things are fundamental to Uzbekistan's survival as a country. And we so we do understand that entirely.

You know, the situation in Ukraine, this is not the time to go into a long discussion about it because people are reading about it in the newspaper every day or seeing it on the news. There's not much I can add, but it really points out the importance of some of the fundamental principles that we always stress in our relationship with Uzbekistan. Sovereignty and independence that we always start out pretty much every bilateral meeting by saying. We support and respect each other's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. These are international principles that are vital to having a stable world. Because once those principles go out the window, it's all about who has power and who can impose their will on somebody else. And sadly, that's what we're seeing with the Russian invasion in Ukraine. But I think it has relevance for Uzbekistan because those principles are dear to Uzbekistan and we've seen this throughout its 30-year history of independence.

So, it's important to have these frank discussions that we're having to understand each other's perspectives. And also you mentioned the foreign minister's statement last week laying out Uzbekistan's position. I thought it was a very reasonable, clear and understandable position. So, anyway, to your question about us understanding and kind of appreciating Uzbekistan's position... Absolutely. We stand ready to work with Uzbekistan to deal with the challenges that this war has brought to the world and to the region.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Are there any hard feelings? Because you know, you still expect things from your strategic partners, right? You want them to be with you during these historic times like what we heard in Washington again and again. This is the time for each country to choose a side. You need to know who you are with at this point. So, you know, Central Asians are abstaining and are choosing to be neutral in general. And also a major factor here is that, not just in Uzbekistan but in the neighboring countries… We don't know what's happening in Turkmenistan for sure, but the public seems to be more critical of the war than the governments. And in your decisions, in your choices and analysis, you take that into account, right? I mean, it's not just what you hear from the governments but from the people in these countries. So, how are you reading the public mood?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: I'm not going to pretend to know the answer to that precisely. We don't have surveys or anything that we're doing about public mood. I'm not sure that there are any public opinion surveys. No opinion here that we could look to understand that. So, what we have to go on? Well, you know, there's just talking to people in your daily life you, talking to the people you meet in the store or that you see on the street or visa applicants I suppose, although they might have a very particular perspective…

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: That would be a long conversation.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, but you can do that. You can look at what people are posting on social media, what's being printed in the press Or what experts, who are looking at public opinion tell you. And if I take all of that into account, it's clear to me that here in Uzbekistan, the opinions are split. I don't know what the split is. I can't say it's 50:50, 80:20, whatever. It's hard to say. It's definitely split. And that's something that we look at. But I have to say going back to the start of your question about, you know, appreciating the position that Uzbekistan is taking and whether there are hard feelings because the word you used in terms of the bilateral relationship. No, there are no hard feelings, because again, we understand completely the dilemma that Uzbekistan faces and we appreciate that.

So I think the key here is Uzbekistan has staked a position and you know, if you look at the foreign minister's statement, this is clear or essentially neutrality, saying you know, we have deep historical and important relationships with Russia and with Ukraine, and we're not going to choose a side, essentially. So, I think it's important that the one thing we would expect, because of the stakes and the important principles involved in this war, is that that neutrality be real neutrality.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Genuine neutrality.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, genuine neutrality. Yes, of course, we understand you're not going to be out there, criticizing the invasion or providing the kind of aid that many countries in Europe are providing to Ukraine, military aid and things of that nature. But you're also not going to be doing the same on the other side. You're not going to be cheering on or aiding and abetting the other side. So, I think, that's something that America would look at and look for is the morality of genuine neutrality. But it is again understandable and it doesn't change our basic belief that Uzbekistan is a strategic partner, that there is much that unites us. We have many common interests and that we can and we want to continue building that relationship.

US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum
US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: The most coherent answer I heard from the officials so far is that, we have to be super careful… that Russia is scary… They don't hide that. We are afraid of Russia. We don’t agree with them but we don't need that extra problem, especially when we see what's happening to Ukraine. What will become of a country if you get on the nerves of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin. And there is this cautiousness they don't hide. Perhaps they've already told you: Nobody will protect us if we get into trouble… We have to really take care of ourselves. So, this is like a preemptive sort of like a step. We don't need that headache. There are many people, in my observation, in the Uzbek government, who obviously don't like what Russia is doing in many ways. I also sense a certain level of anger and disappointment because they don't want to be in this situation, as you just said.

But at the same time, they cannot ignore the public view. They cannot ignore the public opinion. And now more than ever, they know the public opinion, as much as they try to control it. Now, I'm sure, you've noticed that the Uzbek state media in general the Uzbek language media, are not really covering Ukraine. They have been asked not to do that, informally. And several bloggers and journalists have been warned. They've been interrogated. They've been pressured to stop their coverage of Ukraine. Initially, I believe they were asked not to analyze the war. Later on, they said, nothing, like nothing on Ukraine. From what I've found out so far, this is a temporary measure. This is for the good of the country, they say, this is for the good of the Uzbek society. This is for the peace of the country, they say. And to some extent the public seems to understand that. But you can't stop Uzbeks from criticizing the system now, at least on social media. They get it out somehow. Many active bloggers have now been taking the side of the Uzbek government, basically, saying that we get it, we have to be careful. They say, we have to fight this information war that the Russia is raging… You understand Uzbek, you try to speak in Uzbek, I know. You follow Russian. Do you still believe that Uzbekistan is under a great Russian information influence?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yes, I do. I think there's a lot of Russian media penetration here. There's no question about it. I do know that here and maybe somewhat in contrast with some of the other Central Asian countries, there's a heavy reliance on Uzbek language source sources of information and media which is a good thing. It's good for pride in your own language in your own nation. But also, you know, it avoids a little bit of that overwhelming Russian media. Which is an influence that leads, in my view, and I think the view of a lot of the rest of the world today, to a completely false and distorted picture of what's happening in Ukraine and what's happening in the rest of the world.

You were asking earlier about what I thought public opinion was here on the war and so on. You know it's hard sometimes. One of the reasons it's hard to know that is that the volume, the loudness of the voices we're hearing from the Russian media drowns out other voices. It's so loud, so vehement, so aggressive that it makes seem like that's what everyone is thinking, and everyone is saying because they're saying it loudly. Just to take one example that we experienced ourselves. Our embassy in the early stages of the war was trying to provide additional information to add to the information space here by linking on our Facebook and other accounts, social media accounts, to stories about the real war that was happening in Ukraine. Really trying to show the human side, of the human suffering of families being split up and of civilian deaths, of homes being destroyed, of maternity hospitals being bombed... And what we found was that every time we posted one of those, we would get a torrent, a flood of vicious attacks that were anti-American…

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Trolls.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Probably, but it's hard to know. One can speculate it was mostly trolls, but the problem is that, you don't like to say the trolls won. But the fact is that when there's this flood of stuff, it does present a picture that makes it look like that represents public opinion and that's what the people of Uzbekistan think. I don't believe that's true, but it does kind of come across that way. So, going back to what you were saying earlier about pressure on journalists not to report and so on, again, I understand that reaction of the government and even the reaction of journalists being careful. We don't want to provoke our neighbors too much… Again, we understand and respect that.

I do think it's really important though, that that approach does not turn into an information blockade or a distorted view. Because I'm not aware that there's any effort being made to block the falsehoods that are coming out of the Russian media. So, there's no media reporting about Ukraine... So that's also not neutral and it's not balanced, right? So, if you're going to be balanced and neutral, it has to be on both sides anyway. That said, it appears this is going to be a long conflict sadly, and a lot more suffering as a result. We're going to see how this story develops going forward and we'll have a long time to see it develop.

What I think is important again is to have certain principles be understood and accepted. One of those principles is sovereignty and independence, important principles of international law, and have to be respected. You can't make exceptions to that. Secondly, that free information, the flow of information is really important. It helps to give a fully rounded picture of what's happening so the media should be allowed to do its job. And I think the other thing is people accepting and understanding that there is such a thing as truth and it's facts.
I think too often we get so buffeted by all these sources of information, opinions opposite of one another, that ordinary people, any consumer of that information starts to think that there can't be any truth. There can't be any facts. Because how could these two reconcile with each other. These two views of the world. But in fact I think we have to stand up against that kind of thinking and say, yes there are facts. It's sometimes hard to verify them. You sometimes have to work, work at it. But at the end there is truth and there are facts. And I deeply believe that the facts of what is happening in Ukraine are coming out to the world. And it's revealing a tragedy, a human tragedy.

US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum
US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Factual reporting, accurate news are more critical than ever. We saw that during the pandemic we see now. This was true during the war in Afghanistan as well. One reason that I heard from the Uzbek officials so far, justification why are they controlling the coverage here in this country, is that they believe that the Uzbek media, the Uzbek language media, are not really capable of providing that kind of reliable reporting, that they're not skilled enough to cover wars. They are not skilled enough to cover conflict, to provide an objective fair coverage of these issues. And of course, as a journalist, I always argue that they need to exercise, they need to train, they need to practice. You can't stop them because you believe that they're incapable.

And what we have seen so far for the last five years in Uzbekistan is that Uzbek journalists can be very capable. They can be very effective in what they do, if you've provided with enough space. To work, to be creative enough… I know that the U.S. government cares about media freedom in this country, you care about professional journalism in this country. You have been investing in that. What would be your recommendation going forward? How to get out of this situation? Because obviously Uzbekistan stands to benefit from reliable reporting because they also want to fight what they call information wars. For example, the recent remarks from Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, directly addressing Uzbekistan. Hey, this is coming to you as well, was his message when things were getting violent in Kazakhstan early this year. And now we have this war. So, this year so far has been pretty problematic in terms of mitigating crisis. What would you say to those in the Uzbek government, who are brainstorming… Because they know they can't keep this tight for as long as they want. Things are going to get scandalous if they continue to do this.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, well, you know, I always hesitate a little before giving advice to the government because it's not my role unless they ask me. They haven't asked me. I do think though, that it's really important as I said before, to have sort of basic principles with respect to freedom of expression, independence of media. President Mirziyoyev has multiple times, over the years I've been here, repeated how important it is to have an active, professional and aggressive media, vocal and critical, to point out the shortcomings and to be kind of a watchdog to find corruption, et cetera... He said that. I know he believes it. But it has to happen in practice too. These are challenging times. Again, I'm not going to say, you know, the government of Uzbekistan should do X in this with this Ukraine situation because it's not my place to do that. But I think it's important to keep in mind that, if you're going to have a principle that professional, truthful, aggressive reporting is important to the health of a society, then that should apply all the time. It shouldn't just be, you know, when it's convenient.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I'm asking this question mainly because you stand to benefit. You are interested in people's knowledge, perceptions, a fair understanding of what's really happening in the world. You definitely don't want anti-Americanism growing in this part of the world, right? Central Asia is not known for being anti-American in general but right now, this seems to be very critical. Because Uzbeks are watching and already have started to suffer from the impact of the American sanctions on Russia. That's the main conversation here nowadays. Why are we paying for the bread that we have not eaten is what they say… We haven't done anything but why are we going to suffer from this?

What's going to happen to those millions of migrant workers? I had a conversation earlier today with an entrepreneur, who does business with both the United States and Russia. He's in the food industry. He says, we're not seeing the impact yet. But he suspects that towards the summer it's going to be very evident and that we will see large numbers returning and the remittances going down. And prices going up here. Do you worry about that? First, do you worry that it's going to hurt America's image, America's credibility here? And also in general, what help or assistance can you provide? This is after all the largest society in Central Asia.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah. So, this is a challenge that we're very aware of and a potential risk you know. And I think the first thing we always have to do because, again is to explain that the sanctions were the result of illegal, internationally unlawful actions taken by the Russian Federation, by invading a sovereign country. The alternative to sanctions, I suppose, if you're going to try to reverse that action or make it turn it around, would have been direct military involvement, which President Biden made very clear from the beginning was not going to happen. We were not going to take the risk of sending our own troops or putting our own personnel and equipment in into Ukraine. That was, you know, a recipe for World War Three, I think is the term he used or some words to that effect. So economic sanctions is a tool that we and the Europeans and many other countries who have joined them around the world. And it's a tremendous coalition of countries doing this in unison as a lever, as a tool.

We recognize, the United States government recognizes, that there are spillover effects, there's collateral damage, whatever you want to call it, that results from that. So, I think, we start by being honest and saying, we understand that this is going to hurt other countries, but it had to be done for the good of international community.

Then the second part as you said is what can we do to mitigate the effects to make it less harmful and to help in that respect? We had some discussions about that during these visits, these recent visits in Washington. And those discussions continue here, not only with the government of Uzbekistan, but with the rest of the international community. I know there's a lot of focus here right now with the international financial institutions, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others, on what they can do in the short term to provide some financial help, some support to the economy and to the budget, the government budget that will be stressed by this by the sanctions. At the same time, the United States through USAID and many other countries are trying to figure out ways to help with the economic impact, especially regarding what you mentioned of migrant workers, who will be returning from Russia, and it could be very large numbers. I think there's already a flow coming back but you know, anywhere between maybe one or two million might be returning. And that's that's a major stress for the economy.

So, what can we do to help create more jobs to provide training, to provide information to returning migrants about what their options are? We're looking at all of that and will be closely coordinating with the government to come up with ways to help.

US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum
US Ambassador to Uzbekistan Daniel Rosenblum

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: And these efforts started because of the war.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yes, because of the war, they did. I should add that, of course, a lot of these types of programs were already there… But yes, because of the war and the aftermath of the imposition of the sanctions, these discussions started and we're now trying to figure out what can be done. I want to be upfront and honest and say that there will be negative consequences. People will be suffering and not just here in Uzbekistan, in the United States too, where we're being impacted already. It's being felt in much higher prices for gas. You know, that's a sometimes a touchy political issue in the United States. The price of gas because the automobile is so important to our culture. The price of gas has gone up by a huge percentage since the war started, and that's just one example. There's lots and lots of others. So, yes, there will be pain, there will be negative consequences. But we need to work together to find ways to get through it and make life better for people.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: One way I hear from Uzbek entrepreneurs, who want investment from the United States, who want more larger flow of investment from the United States, is that this could be a good time for the American companies to seriously consider coming in and trying to fill the void. They do believe realistically that they can't yet fill all the space that, for example, Russians have been in. Russia is the biggest business partner of this country, the biggest trade partner. So, do you think that this is going to trigger that kind of a change? That more American companies could be considering coming in?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: I hope so. It's hard today to predict what that will look like in terms of numbers of companies… But I do think there's a great opportunity for American companies. This is something that we're always trying to present to them through our embassy. You know, we have people in our embassy who do nothing but promote U.S. trade and U.S. investment here in Uzbekistan. I think the potential is there and I truly believe that and I've said this throughout my three years here, that American companies often bring something to the table that companies from other parts of the world don't, and that is that they really invest in people. They train their people. They don't bring they're not going to bring large numbers of American staff from their headquarters here to work. They're going to hire locally trained people and turn over a lot of responsibility to the local employees. And I've said we've seen this over and over again.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: What companies have done that so far? Any examples?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: I'll give you two examples that I've seen in my time here. One is Honeywell, the Honeywell Corporation which has actually been operating in Uzbekistan for over 20 years. They do a lot of work involved with the oil and gas and the chemical industries providing the control systems the electronic controls the technology. The technology to help it run properly. But I visited some of their facilities here and they you know it's all Uzbek employees. They're getting tremendous training opportunities to raise their skill level. And in one case, Honeywell set up a essentially a call center a support center, a technical support center here in Tashkent that is providing advice to oil and gas operations out in the Persian Gulf even like around the world, with Uzbek engineers providing the advice. All because of the training and experience they got from Honeywell. So that's one example.

Another one is there's a there's a much smaller American company called Silverleaf International which is running one of the cotton clusters in Jizzakh region. I've I visited their farm. I've met their employees. They are providing some real chance for local people to learn how to work with mechanized farming. This is sort of the future of the cotton industry here, instead of it being hand-picked to actually use machines to pick and harvest. And these machines are complicated. They're not easy to use, and in fact one of the things I've noticed about Silverleaf is that they've emphasized hiring women to do these jobs and giving them the training for it, which is not an opportunity that women often get in the economy here. So, there are multiple other examples, but I see again and again how U.S. companies are bringing that to the local economy. So, the challenge now is how can we replicate that? How can we get an increase and expand and increase it?

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: You're always compared to what China is doing in the region. But you can't compete with China… We see Turkey being more assertive now. It’s getting more active, not just in Uzbekistan and the neighboring countries too. So, the geopolitical picture, as you just said, is changing and especially with what's happening in Afghanistan or what's not happening in Afghanistan. The Biden administration has been calling for the creation of an inclusive government there since August. That's not happening. It hasn't happened yet. And Uzbeks realize that. But Uzbekistan seems to be the Taliban's closest friend now.

Does that bother you? Because the Biden administration hasn't really announced its strategy on how to deal with the Taliban, that Washington seems to be still thinking, strategizing and brainstorming, and I believe that the recent conversations with the U.S. delegation in Washington also included that conversation; What are we going to do together? What can we do together? I guess the second part of my question would be to what extent are you in sync with what Tashkent wants to do, what Tashkent wants you to do?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, well, first of all, I'll say that the government of Uzbekistan has been extremely collaborative and communicative with us about its Afghanistan policy. I believe, it's trying really hard to be part of an international consensus about what to do with respect to the Taliban government. So, I think, you correctly said that Uzbekistan is maybe one of the more forward leaning countries in the world in terms of developing a relationship with the new government, not having formally recognized them still.

But having had lots of visits and signing agreements related to energy supply and actively pursuing projects like this, the idea of building a railroad line that would connect to Pakistan and so on. They've been very forward leaning, very proactive on that. But at the same time, very careful, I think, to be part of this international consensus that says the Taliban government needs to do certain things first before they will become legitimate in the eyes of the world. Recognition, including I mean, you mentioned the inclusive government, there's some debate about exactly what that means, how you define inclusive. But it's clear that the current government doesn't meet any of the, you know, definitions people are putting out there. There's also the issue of them not allowing terrorist groups to operate or expand on their territory. From an American point of view, this is fundamental. Obviously, our whole involvement in Afghanistan really since 2001 has been about that issue at the most basic level.

And then, of course, there's issues related to human rights and especially, the rights of women and girls. We just saw this past week a somewhat disturbing development which was that school for girls above the elementary grades was scheduled to reopen and then on the same day it was closed again. There's no date for when it will be reopened. But the point is that on all these issues, these kinds of conditions, that the international community set, Uzbekistan has been firm in saying that they support those conditions and that they want to be part of the international consensus. So, I think that's important.

I also think that there are ways that we can in the future cooperate with Uzbekistan to the benefit of the region and to stability in the region. This has been true since before the changes that happened last summer in the new government, especially with regard to cooperation in counterterrorism. Going back to what I said earlier, we are very concerned that there not be a fertile ground on the soil of Afghanistan for the growth of terrorist groups. Terrorist groups operate there. Now, there there's some evidence that they've been growing in number and ability to operate since the change of government last summer.

I should say the overthrow of the government and a change of government is a little too much of a euphemism. But the point is that that concern about. The threat of terrorism is one we share very deeply with the U.S. and with the whole region of Central Asia. So, finding ways of cooperating to meet that threat, both to know what's happening in Afghanistan and to be able to combat, it is something we care very much about and it's a common concern to both countries.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: As we watch how close is Tashkent with the with the interim government in Kabul now, it's very easy to think or expect that Uzbekistan is about to recognize the government there, the Taliban government. But we've had conversations and President Mirziyoyev’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Ismatulla Irgashev told us: No, we're not going to recognize the Taliban individually. He did not say, we're not going to. He says if we are to recognize the Taliban government, it will have to be a consensus, as you just said. It needs to be a regional consensus. It needs to be a consensus with our strategic partners, including the United States. And the question: how possible is that? How far or how close is Washington to that?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: On that question, I'm not going to be able to give you a very comprehensive answer, I'm afraid, because I'm not involved in the day-to-day workings of our Afghanistan policy. So I can't say how close or how far... I will say simply that we do have some specific issues and conditions that we've been clear on with the with the Taliban government and those have not been fulfilled yet.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: There have been many conversations and discussions in Washington in the think tanks. Those discussions include the members of the State Department South and Central Asia bureau and others, including the White House National Security Council, the Pentagon and all the relevant agencies discussing whether the administration should update the Central Asia strategy or is it time to update the Central Asia strategy now that America is fully out of Afghanistan. And what will take now to convince the region, that America still cares about Central Asia post-Afghanistan because, as we all know, Afghanistan was a priority and there in these relationships and Afghanistan played a huge role in the political ties in the political partnerships. So, how do you explain to the Uzbek people that say that America is still very much committed to all the priorities and promises that you've made over the years with this country?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Well, you know, frankly, the best way to convince the Uzbek people is to show results, to do tangible things… I think if I can point to way more things than we have time for in this interview that we've done over the just three years I've been here, that that I think prove that. I'll just take a couple of very concrete examples. We are deeply committed to supporting the reforms that President Mirziyoyev started five years ago that will improve the country's ability to generate economic growth and provide for its citizens, including, for example, in the education sector where we are working hand in hand with the Ministry of Public Education to improve the textbooks the curriculum, especially with respect to IT and English language. We have done a lot of very tangible things that have improved conditions in the classroom and the teaching skills of teachers to be able to raise students up.

And, you know, it's hard work and it doesn't get a lot of attention. It's not glamorous work. But our partners in the ministry and in the government can see that we are committed to improving the lives and the welfare of citizens of Uzbekistan. In another field,completely different, agriculture, we've been investing for many years but especially in the last few years and diversifying the crops that Uzbek farmers grow and helping them find markets export markets in the long run. This is benefiting Uzbekistan citizens, putting money in their pocket, helping them create businesses and grow them. And this is something that we have done because we care about the future of this country. So again, you know, I can make an unlimited number of statements, general statements, about supporting Uzbekistan’s sovereignty and independence and that we want a prosperous Uzbekistan. But none of that will convince anyone. It's more when you point to very concrete things that we have done and continue to do to benefit this country in a very tangible way.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I was here when the Cotton Campaign announced that it was ending the boycott, that was canceling the boycott on the Uzbek cotton. It immediately raised questions and speculations that it could be related to the war in Ukraine, that America was sort of trying to demonstrate that it's going to support Uzbekistan as it expects economic challenges. I saw some Uzbek activists and bloggers and journalists basically asking questions whether the end of boycott related to what's happening in Ukraine.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: The answer is no.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I know that the answer is no because we know that this was coming… The end of the boycott was being discussed. It was a long time coming. But how big of a deal is that? What should the Uzbek government do? I know you don't want to be in the recommending role but I am sure you must have conversations with the members of the Uzbek government about this. Uzbeks are seeing this as a victory, but at the same time as a historic challenge. Can you really now sustain this if you claim or you if you conclude that we've ended forced labor and child labor? What would it take for the Uzbek government for the Uzbek system for the country in general to maintain that? And make sure that you continue to open and improve?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: I'm glad you raised the lifting of the campaign boycott or the pledge as it was called, because, you know, we sometimes we lose sight of that kind of event when there's so many other dramatic things happening in the world today and in the region. But and it's a shame because it was a long time coming. I truly would say that this is a historic development a historic sign of progress. The I think you and I have talked about this before over the years, the U.S. government. And a lot of other partners the international labor organization, the German government the Swiss government others have supported now for the past almost seven years I think this annual monitoring of the cotton harvest and including, by the way I think importantly getting Uzbek civil society groups involved in the monitoring who can now continue to do it even when the international community maybe no longer has to play that role.

And vitally important, we had a very strong commitment from the government of Uzbekistan from the president on down to eradicate forced labor child labor and forced labor in the cotton harvest and after. Five, six, seven however you want to count it long years of work, the lifting of this boycott was the result, and it was a historic occasion. Now that also provides a historic opportunity economically for Uzbekistan as you mentioned. And there is much we can do to help with that in terms of matching US companies with the market here, convincing them that it's time to come here to source cotton apparel made from cotton from Uzbekistan. The opportunity is big now, not only because of reorientation that will happen due to the war. But also, because, as you may know there are sanctions against cotton from China in this area, Xinjiang, which has been a major source of cotton for the apparel industry for years now. And that means a lot of these companies are looking for a new place. They're looking for a new source in Uzbekistan at the right time. So, the timing is good from that perspective. There's a lot of goodwill and a lot of interest in helping. I actually see this as a huge growth area for Uzbekistan's economy and we can help.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: The obvious question will be where Uzbekistan is in terms of starting its application process or attempt or efforts to join the WTO. And you see the relevance there as well?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, I do, because joining WTO is all about having a more open trade regime and having all the laws in place and policies that will allow you to trade with the whole rest of the world and benefit from the news.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Uzbekistan needs to negotiate with each member of the organization, right?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, to agreeing with the whole organization they need to do these bilateral deals as well. So, actually, yeah, there is a connection. I mean the boycott didn't end because of Uzbekistan's WTO application. But there's a timing here. There's a convergence of positive things happening at the same time.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: The promise to support Uzbekistan in its bid to join the WTO came from the previous administration from the Trump administration. So, I know that Minister Umurzakov heard a similar commitment from the Biden administration. Can we assume that that commitment is as strong as it was when Wilbur Ross announced it in 2019?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Absolutely. I was there during this recent visit when deputy prime minister met with our U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Catherine Tai, and she uttered those same words, you know.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Unchanged.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Unchanged, you know, strong, very strong commitment to Uzbekistan becoming a member, to facilitating that and to helping it. Now I should add that every country including the United States has to do these bilateral negotiations as part of the process. And those negotiations, you know, will be tough and we’ll stand up for U.S. interests.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: So, it’s not like the U.S. is going to soften its requirements?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: We are going to treat Uzbekistan the way we would any other country in the world in terms of, you know, in other words, if you're going to get access to our market, we need access to your market too. It goes both ways. It's a two-way trade. That said, you know, what I would say we're going above and beyond to help the process. And, for example, USAID is providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade on the accession process. We have one of our most experienced, preeminent experts on the accession process, a former USTR official, retired a few years ago, but he used to work there, who is in that role of adviser. And, you know, that's invaluable to get that kind of assistance and help. So yeah, the commitment is still there, didn't change with the new administration.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: What happened in Kazakhstan and what's happening to Ukraine, with Ukraine really makes everybody think about and reconsider the notion of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. I have to admit that even as a journalist I've gotten a bit cynical about why the US keeps on mentioning its support of independence and all. This a mantra, right? Like Holy Trinity, as previous Assistant Secretary Alice Wells used to call it. What are the lessons for the United States from these two crises that have a direct impact on your relations with the region and on the region in general? What are the lessons for you as you continue to support these three things? What has changed for you?

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Well, I think one thing that's changed is being able to understand and that the unimaginable can become real.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Never say never.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Never say never because, you know, everyone and I would include people here in Uzbekistan who I spoke to in the government and outside the government, right up to the point where Putin sent his army into Ukraine, did not believe he would. They were absolutely convinced it wasn't possible because how could he be that crazy. Like how why would he do that? Why would he do it? What's his plan What's his strategy How is he going to occupy this country? And yet it happened. So, I do think that is a lesson to all of us and it doesn't just apply to this region, I suppose, it applies to the whole world that you. You have to pay attention to what political leaders say their intentions are and take them seriously.

I mean not to overdraw the historical comparisons but, you know we learned a little bit about that in the 1920s and 30s with Adolf Hitler, who wrote a book laying out his intentions and his objectives, and then he carried systematically carried those things out. But right up to the point that he invaded Poland in 1939, nobody many world leaders did not believe he would actually do it. And they thought they had a way to persuade him not to…

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Including the Soviet leadership.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yes, right. The Molotov Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Exhibit A. So, anyway,that is something that we've been reminded of recently and. I think it should be a lesson for every country in the world, and I also think that, you know, you mentioned Kazakhstan too. You know there it's more complex. It's not as clear cut a situation… But I think the lesson that everyone's drawn I know that here in Uzbekistan too is that you really you need to pay attention to what the public are saying and thinking and some of the grievances that they have because it can sometimes you know, boil up into something that you did not expect and lead to interventions that you didn't expect in. This case, you know, the deployment of the troops and the CSTO.

The other effect it seems to have had, although I don't know that it took that crisis to make this happen necessarily, is Uzbekistan has redoubled its efforts to build the relationship, the bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan. And I've heard Uzbek officials repeatedly say that that relationship is in some ways maybe the most important for you daughter. I think that's a great way of looking at it because it's their neighbor. There's a lot of complementarities. There's a lot in common and common interests and so developing trade developing you know, ties and jobs. We were talking about migrant workers earlier. I know that over the last few years, more and more migrant workers have been going to Kazakhstan rather than Russia. And again, I think that has some positive elements to it. So, you know, in Central Asia, we've been working on this through our so-called C5+1 platform to build this sense of regional solidarity and common interests. It's real. It exists and the Uzbek-Kazakh relationship is a good example.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: So, you support this.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Yes, we do.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: Well, we can talk forever and discuss all these issues that are so interconnected in this very comfortable room in sunny Tashkent, finally. Thank you so much for finding time for us, for having this wonderful discussion with us. We really appreciate it

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Thank you for doing this.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: I'm sure our viewers are more appreciative of this… They like to hear from you as we know from social media. They love it when you speak in Uzbek.

Ambassador Daniel Rosenblum: Thank you for this. I always enjoy these conversations. And as I think I said maybe the last time we did an interview, I learn as much as I can from these conversations as I provide information, I learn just as much. So, thank you!

Navbahor Imamova, VOA: We appreciate it.

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    Navbahor Imamova

    Navbahor Imamova - "Amerika Ovozi" teleradiosining yetakchi multimedia jurnalisti. "Amerika Manzaralari" turkumidagi teledasturlar muallifi. Ko'rsatuvlar taqdim etish bilan birga prodyuser, muxbir va muharrir. O'zbekistonda akkreditatsiyadan o'tgan yagona amerikalik jurnalist. "Amerika Ovozi"da 2002-yildan beri ishlaydi. Jurnalistik faoliyatini 1996-yilda O'zbekiston radiosining "Xalqaro hayot" redaksiyasida boshlagan. Jahon Tillar Universiteti Xalqaro jurnalistika fakultetida dars bergan. Ommaviy axborot vositalari bo'yicha bakalavrlikni Hindistonning Maysur Universitetidan (University of Mysore), magistrlikni esa AQShning Bol Davlat Universitetidan (Ball State University) olgan. Shuningdek, Garvard Universitetidan (Harvard University) davlat boshqaruvi va liderlik bo'yicha magistrlik diplomiga ega. Jurnalistik va ilmiy materiallari qator xalqaro manbalarda chop etilgan. Amerikaning nufuzli universitetlari va tahlil markazlarida so'zlab, ma'ruzalar o'qib keladi. "Amerika Ovozi" oltin medali sohibi. Tashkilotda gender va jurnalistika bo'yicha kengash raisi. Toshkent viloyati Bo'stonliq tumani Qo'shqo'rg'on qishlog'ida ziyoli oilasida ulg'aygan.

    Navbahor Imamova is a prominent Uzbek journalist at the Voice of America. As anchor, reporter, multimedia editor and producer, she has covered Central Asia and the U.S. for more than 20 years on TV, radio and online. Since 2018, she has also been reporting from inside Uzbekistan as the first-ever U.S.-based accredited correspondent in the country. During 2016-2017, she was a prestigious Edward S. Mason Fellow in public policy and management, while earning her Mid-Career Master in Public Administration at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Navbahor played a pivotal role in the launch of Uzbek television programming at VOA in 2003, and has since presented more than 1000 editions of the flagship weekly show, “Amerika Manzaralari” (Exploring America), which covers American foreign policy focusing on Washington’s relations with Central Asia, as well as life and politics in the U.S. She speaks frequently on regional issues in Central Asia, as well as Uzbek politics and society, for policy, academic, and popular audiences. Her analytical pieces have been published in leading academic and news outlets including Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and the Atlantic. Navbahor also is the founding President of the VOA Women’s Caucus. She began her career at Uzbekistan’s state broadcasting company in Tashkent. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mysore, India and a Master of Arts in journalism from Ball State University, Indiana.

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