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US-Central Asia: 25 years of cooperation, lessons and challenges

US-Central Asia: Successions & 25 years of cooperation
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As the countries of Central Asia celebrate 25 years of independence, Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Central Asia, talks to VOA Uzbek about US interests and goals in the region. The interview starts with a question on the latest developments in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov remains in critical condition following a stroke. The conversation was taped early on Monday, Aug 29, 2016.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Welcome to the Voice of America! We are really grateful that you came over from the State Department to the Voice of America this morning.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Thank you! It's wonderful to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: What do you know about the situation in the Uzbek capital, and do you have any information other than what everybody else has about the condition of President Islam Karimov?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: We've seen the reports that others have and the official statement by the government. That's really the information that we have as well. We wish the president and his family well and hope for good health in the end. That's really all we know at this point, and I can't speculate on anything further.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Various succession scenarios have been discussed for a very long time, as you know, especially when it comes to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Many see this as a pivotal moment. Many people might also be wondering about what would be the best scenario as far as the United States is concerned.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: That's something I'm not going to speculate on and get into hypothetical scenarios. All I'll say is that we consider ourselves a friend of Uzbekistan and the people of Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan as well of course. We support the country's independence and its sovereignty, and will continue to develop that friendship under any scenario.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: No matter what happens, you want to maintain the current level of cooperation and the relationship. Is that what you're saying?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah. We would like to develop our partnerships in the region and continue to do so in the future.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Remember our 2010 interview when you and I, we talked about, right after the ethnic riots and tragedy in Kyrgyzstan where you explained the American interests and goals in the region? I've interviewed many people, and not everyone in Washington can clearly explain what America really wants in the region. As the countries of the region celebrate 25 years of independence, you being the point man to the region, what are the interests right now and what are the goals that you have to keep your full attention on?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: There's a lot of continuity in the goals, so what I say now may not sound that different from what I said six years ago. I am more focused now than I was then on Central Asia itself, because I think when you interviewed me then, I had ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: You were the administrator for US assistance.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: For all the assistance, and it was a much broader region including the Balkans and the whole former Soviet space. I would put it this way. First of all, there are sort of two underlying fundamental interests the US has in Central Asia. One goes back really to the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and that is we want the states of the region to be prosperous. We want them to be independent and sovereign. That independence and sovereignty is something that we've supported straight through, through administrations. There's really a direct line over the past 25 years.

The second interest we have, which I think has been there from the beginning of independence, but really came into sharp focus after the events of 9/11 and what followed, and that is that we want stability. We want these countries to be able to be secure and not become havens for terrorist activity. We saw what happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s and what that resulted in in terms of a threat to our national security, and we don't want the same to play out in Central Asia. Really the independence and sovereignty goal, and the stability goal, and the not becoming havens for terrorism, are the underlying interests that the US has in the region.

In order to achieve those interests or to see those interests be fulfilled, we think that there are 3 main areas that we need to work on with our partners in Central Asia. The first is security. We do a number of things to try to bolster the security of the countries in the region, from providing training to providing some equipment and providing some just knowledge and skills about how to defend borders, how to develop a security apparatus that works.

The second area is economics. We understand that these countries can't stay stable and can't maintain their independence unless they succeed economically, unless they can deliver for their population. We believe that in order to succeed economically, there needs to be internal reform, that is their economies have to function better internally, and they have to be better connected to the outside world and to one another. That means better flow of goods, trade over borders, and better infrastructure as well.

The third area, just to finish the third objective that we think is key, is good governance. That is these countries need to develop the institutions and the kind of policies that will allow for effective government that delivers for its citizenry and also accountable government that is transparent and accountable to its population. Those are really the 3 objectives that we, again in partnership with the countries in the region, are trying to achieve, the economic one, the security one, and the good governance one, to support these long-term interests that we have in the region of stability and independence and sovereignty.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: To what extent do you feel like you have found the common ground with these countries when it comes to these goals? How mutual are these goals?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: I think we've achieved some confluence of interests, some commonality of assessment of what the situation is and what's required, but we're not all the way there and we may never get all the way there. The reality is that countries come at these issues from different perspectives, different historical legacies, and so on, but we certainly have active and open conversation about these goals all the time in our bilateral relations. I think we've come a long way to finding common ground, even though we're not there and we may never completely get there.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: You are a professional diplomat, and you have been doing this for a long time. What are the best ways to achieve these goals, based on your experience, if we were to specifically look at Central Asia, tactically?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: The best way from our perspective and from my own experience, as you say, over many years now of working with foreign countries, is to develop ties at all levels of our governments and societies first of all. That is to have a lot of interaction. I mean meetings between diplomats, of course, but also the whole spectrum, businesses dealing with businesses, universities dealing with universities, citizen to citizen. All of that is important, and it helps to develop that common perspective of what our common challenges are and how to tackle them, how to deal with them.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Not just government to government, but you want people to people, in general.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I think that's a key element of ... That's a tactic, so to speak, in developing this common sense of what needs to be done. I think it's also important to engage and to try to achieve all of those 3 things that I talked about in parallel with one another. That is we don't say that, unless we've made a certain amount of progress in 1 area, we're not going to work in the other areas. We work in all of them together in parallel, and we see them as mutually reinforcing too. That's important in all of that.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: So, no conditions.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah. I wouldn't say no conditions. That may be too extreme a case. That is, there are certain ... For example, we have ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: These things are always tied up to each other, right?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Things are linked with each other, and we have some legal issues that we confront in our country, some restrictions in legislation adopted by our Congress, that sometimes constrain what we can do. The important thing to me is that we not view it as sort of zero sum. That is that progress in 1 area doesn't come at the expense of another area or vice versa.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Any success stories that you look at and you say, "Wow, I'm really happy we achieved that," with a specific country?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: If I look across the spectrum of the countries that were in the region, I point to a few things as, I think, success stories in the relationship and in their own achievements. I think Kyrgyzstan, for example, has achieved quite a bit in terms of developing its democratic institutions. There's a ways to go. I think the people and government of Kyrgyzstan recognize that themselves, but holding several rounds of free and fair elections, developing a sense of constraints on the different branches of government, checks and balances as we would refer to it here, and also having a very robust civil society that has a voice and really has an influence over what happens in the country.

Those are achievements of Kyrgyzstan itself, of the people and the government of Kyrgyzstan. I'm not going to say it's a credit to the United States per se or other countries. It's really their achievement. I would say that over the years though we have supported that development in a lot of ways. We talked about some of these 6 years ago probably when we talked about our assistance to Kyrgyzstan, but I think it is in some sense a shared achievement.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Do you feel like that assistance - some $45 million the US provided at that time - has borne any fruits?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Sometimes it's hard to judge results or impact of assistance, because you don't know what would have happened without it. It's sort of, as they say, you can't prove a negative. I would say that the fact that since 2010, Kyrgyzstan's development has been relatively stable, that they've had several successive rounds of elections for Parliament and at least once for president and soon to be another election for president that have passed in a good manner, free and fair and stable election process. That is a testament, again, to the people of Kyrgyzstan, but also I think there's some connection to our assistance, to the various kinds of assistance that we've provided to the electoral process.

Similarly, while the economy there has not performed as well as I'm sure they would like it to, overall the economic growth that has been achieved, would it have been worse if not for our assistance? Quite possibly. Again, we can't take the credit for all the good things that have happened, but I think that were it not for both the reconstruction aid that we gave, and then the reform, economic reform, assistance that we've had over the past 6 years, things most likely would have been worse. Yes, I think you can point to some positive impact.

The other thing, going back to your earlier question about success stories and so on, I look at some of the things that have happened in Kazakhstan, including last year when Kazakhstan entered the WTO as being a shared success. That is something where the US over a number of years strongly supported that effort, provided various kinds of technical assistance, and then also was involved in the actual negotiations in the end to get an agreement. It was, I think, a tribute to, again, primarily the efforts of the government of Kazakhstan, but also the support we've provided, that they achieved that goal. As I look around the region, there's probably a lot of other small successes, micro-successes, that I could point to if we had more time, but I think overall there's definitely been some positives.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Washington is increasing its assistance to the region as of 2017, right?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: A small increase for the region. It wasn't huge over what Congress provided in 2016, but in compared to 2015 and preceding years, it was definitely an increase.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: What are the best ways to provide assistance? What kinds of assistance do you think US should be providing to Central Asia? Any more effective ways of doing it?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: I think ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Because US does not give suitcases filled with money, right, to the governments of Central Asia.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Right.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: It's not like you're giving cash.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, we don't. That's not the way we provide assistance in Central Asia and generally not in most of the world. There are some cases here and there where we actually provide budget support, not in the form of suitcases of money, but in other ways that funds are transferred. In very rare cases, we've done that, even in the region that I used to work on in my old job, but not in Central Asia.

What we've found to be effective over the years is a combination of providing expertise that we have developed over the years from our own experience, and that covers a very broad range of areas, everything from governing institutions, how to run a ministry or how to run a court system or a judicial system, to business knowledge, business know-how. I think everyone knows in the world that American business, the American private sector, is extremely effective and full of all kinds of innovation and important skills, and we've found ways of providing that knowledge and that experience to other countries.

It can be through exchanges, where you're actually sending people, American farmers or American small business people, to the country to provide that kind of knowledge, or the other way around, sending people from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan to the United States. It also has often taken the form of providing financing or modes of financing, microcredit and different kinds of loan programs to support businesses. It's in general that kind of know-how and information and skill development that we, I think, do really well at.

Sometimes we've also over the years been able to add to the kind of, I guess you could say, the software, the brain power, and the knowledge transfer, some elements of infrastructure or equipment or things that add to that skill set. For example, in the health area, while we've done a lot of training and providing the kind of techniques, we've also provided equipment over the years, diagnostic equipment, testing for tuberculosis, for example.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Technology...

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Technology that supplements the training. I think that's where we're most effective. We're not going to be building dams and bridges and highways for the most part, although I would say on that, as an important point ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: China is doing that. I have to say that.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: China is doing that. Yeah, China's doing that. International financial institutions are doing it. I would point out that sometimes I think the US doesn't get the credit that we might be getting or should be getting for the contributions we make to the international financial institutions, which in turn provide the infrastructure support, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and so on.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: US is still contributing financially.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: We're contributing, but indirectly in that sense. In general, we're not going to be, whether it's suitcases of money or other ways, we're not going to be providing that kind of assistance.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: How about the military assistance? The State Department still oversees that part of the assistance too, right?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: We do. We do. There's a number of programs that provide security assistance, as we call it more broadly. Sometimes it's our Defense Department who's actually doing the training or providing the assistance, but there are other agencies and other parts of even the State Department that are doing it too. It's not just to the military. Sometimes it's to the police or to the border services, the border guards. In that area, we've done quite a bit over the years, and a lot of it is, again, the software, so to speak. It's not necessarily equipment.

We do some of that, but a lot of it is having our police officers, our military people, actually go out and provide training and provide the kind of knowledge of how to secure your country that we've perfected over the years. What I've seen myself, because I go and visit the border sites or go to the, I don't know, the ministry of defense buildings and so on, and talk to our counterparts, to our partners, and they are universally positive about the kind of assistance they get from the United States. They feel like it's practical, it's usable, and it's appropriate for what they need, that it's provided in a very targeted way.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: It is what they want, basically.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Right. It's what they want. Obviously the US military has a reputation around the world as being an extremely effective fighting force and very capable. They come in with a good reputation to start with. Again, afterwards, when I talk to people after the training has happened or whatever, I get really, really positive reactions to the quality, the quality of the assistance.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: We know that they want more.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: They do, generally.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: They want more military assistance.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: They do generally want more. Yeah. Yeah.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: What are the conditions, or what do you tell them when they ask for more, whether it's about border security or just in general, reforming their military?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: I guess one of the constraints we have going in is that there's not a lot of money budgeted for this sort of thing in Central Asia. Somewhat to my regret, because I am an advocate for this region that I focus on, our budgets are very small, so that's a constraint going in. It means there's no blank check, so to speak. Also, we work with countries to try to develop certain capabilities that we think ... which they've told us they need and which we think we can help them with. A lot of that is about border security, because secure borders are something that everyone can agree are important, and which our own policy supports. We're not about increasing capacity of countries to, for example, carry out offensive operations against neighbors. That is not at all what our assistance is aimed at, and the kind of capacity we're building is not doing that. I'm not saying we get requests of that type, but were we to get such a request, we wouldn't be able to fulfill it.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: At the same time, anything that you can provide them can be used for any purposes that that or this government chooses to, right?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Not necessarily, no. I'm not a military expert on the various kinds of equipment and so on. But our experts tell me, and they explain, they don't just assert this, they explain what they mean, that there are certain training and certain technologies and types of equipment that are suited for certain purposes, so it's not ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: ... like they are used against terrorists or extremists?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah, for example. It isn't the case that anything can be used for anything. The other important point here though is that we have pretty rigorous end use monitoring built into our programs. For example, if we provide a type of equipment to a country, it comes with the strings attached to it, which is that we get to go in periodically in months and years following to check on where it is and how it's being used. That just comes with the package that's provided.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: The fight against extremism... Let's say, violent extremism and terrorism have been one of the biggest issues that you've been focusing on with Central Asian governments. We know that you have increased the pressure a little bit on religious freedom. You've been talking to the governments about tolerance, soft-handed approach when it comes to dealing with the threats, with whatever they see as threats. I have had some interesting conversations with some officials in the region, and the general view is that, "Well, nobody really understands the level of the threat that we're facing. America doesn't always appreciate it well." How do you deal with that? Because they feel like there is no soft-handed approach when it comes to dealing with terrorists and extremists, that they know better, they know who the enemies are on the ground. They also argue that there is no other way to deal with these people. "You cannot be tolerant with them," they say. "You cannot be soft-handed."

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Can you share any of those conversations, or I guess, brainstorming sessions... Because these are real conversations.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: These are real conversations, certainly, within each of the countries, and sometimes in our own dialogue with the countries of Central Asia. I can't share specific conversations. Obviously that would not be in the spirit of diplomatic discourse, but I can tell you that in general. We do have very frank and direct kinds of talks with governments in the region about a whole range of issues in the area that you might label human rights or the human dimension. Religious freedom is part of that definitely.

I think you know, what you're referring to and what everyone is seeing, is that we have this process each year, the International Religious Freedom Report, that's issued, and as part of that process, some countries are designated as countries of particular concern or CPC as we call it. Those decisions are not taken lightly, of course, at all by us. We realize it's very serious to put a country on that list of the countries of particular concern. They also follow a lot of dialogue with the governments in the region about our concerns with the way that religious believers are treated, religious minorities and others, and also sharing our perspective on why certain policies, we think, are actually counterproductive to the goals.

The goal is a shared one, and we agree on the goal. The goal is to allow people to practice their faith, but also to protect the security of the country and to ensure that radical extremist groups don't gain followers in the country who might commit terrorist acts, and just to make sure that the citizens are safe and secure. There's no question that the goal is the same. The question is how to achieve that goal. I would acknowledge your point, which is that there is sometimes a different perspective on how best to achieve that goal and what the balance should be. It's really about achieving a balance. We struggle with this in our own country, between freedom on the one hand and security on the other. They're sometimes in tension with each other.

I would say we probably don't always see eye to eye on what the balance should be. We continue to believe that restricting peaceful religious practice and belief in the long run, restricting it in ways that lead people to look for alternatives perhaps or seek more radical solutions, is counterproductive. That is, it will lead in the end to a defeat of the other goal of security. That's something that we don't always agree on with our counterparts in the governments of Central Asia, but we always try to find common ground. Even in those cases where we have, for example, designated countries on this list, we continue to talk to them about it. It's not like we ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: You're not necessarily sanctioning them.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: What's happened is the way the law is designed, you can be designated on the list, and then it's the discretion of the Secretary of State to waive the sanctions. There are sanctions under the law, but there's also a waiver. I think the standard is if it's seen as in the national interest of the United States to waive the sanctions, you can, and we have until now. We have always waived those sanctions for the countries of Central Asia.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Can you explain the national security part of it? How does that relate directly?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: What the sanctions would affect is our ability to provide assistance. Our judgment has been, and when I say our, it's the State Department decision that is made by the Secretary of State, our judgment has been that the benefit that we gain in terms of our own national security from providing the assistance outweighs the cost of continuing to provide the assistance. Yeah, it's basically a national interest argument that's made for waiving the sanctions.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: From the very beginning, from 1991 when the countries of Central Asia became independent, the United States has always aspired to see free, democratic societies in the region. A quarter of a century later, we still have more or less authoritarian regimes with one of the worst human rights records. What is next in terms of promoting democracy and human rights in the region? Do you think that the way America has done has worked to some extent perhaps? You talked about Kyrgyzstan. I know this is a challenge for you. I'm wondering about the challenges you face in terms of promoting freedom in Central Asia... You face a lot of criticism. You have dealt with it over the years. Let's talk about the challenges - how difficult it is to promote freedom?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: I started out by talking about the three objectives of our policy in the area of security and economics and good governance. I also said that we believe it's possible, and in fact necessary, to pursue all three in parallel with each other. I think it's fair to say, and I'd be the first to admit, that the good governance area, that basket, has been maybe the most challenging over the years of the three. You can measure progress in a variety of ways, but it's one that we certainly haven't made the progress that we would have ... The countries of the region haven't made the progress that we would have liked to see in that third area.

It is a challenge not just because you are dealing with countries who sometimes have a different perspective than we do, as we were discussing earlier on the question of religious freedom, but also because we are subject to a lot of criticism, as you put it, from our own civil society here in the United States and sometimes from our Congress for not doing enough in this area. I think the way we respond to that criticism, the way I responded to it, is to say, "Look, we share the same goal here. We want to see improvements in all of these areas."

We want to see them because, first of all, it's consistent with American values and the way we project our foreign policy in the world, but just as importantly, we want to see them because we think it's in the interest of stability in this region in the long run. Going back to what I was saying about the balance between religious freedom and security and concerns about extremism, many of these policies can be counterproductive over the long run and lead to more instability. We've seen this in other parts of the world over time. Experience tells us that this is not necessarily the right approach to ensure stability. We say to the critics, and there are many ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Always.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: ... that there are always many critics, that we agree on the goal. The question is how best to achieve that goal and how to get there. Our approach has been and remains that we should address these issues head-on. They should be part of our diplomatic dialogue with countries. We should press them on the need to make improvements in these areas, but at the same time, we should pursue other elements of our relationship together in parallel and build trust, build mutual confidence. Over time, we expect and hope, or hope and expect, that this approach will bear fruit. Again, as I said, you can point to small areas of progress if you look around the region, and some not just small, some big ones, some smaller ones, around the region. That bolsters my confidence that in the long run, we will see progress.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: As a demonstration, to show, that mutual trust and confidence, you introduced C5+1 in 2015. You recently held ministerial level talks in Washington which you and your colleagues coined as a historic event, because this was, for the first time, you had five foreign ministers of the region come together in Washington. They sat down with Secretary Kerry. This was a good way to show that the region wants to move forward as one integrated part of the world. How confident are you that this initiative will continue, or the US will continue to work on this as the president changes next year? Also, how committed do you think that the countries are, realistically speaking? Because sometimes it feels like the United States is more excited or optimistic, and we have talked about this before, about the integration than the region itself?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Mm-hmm (affirmative). First of all, in terms of how well-established the C5+1 is and whether it will continue, which was part of your question, I believe that now having had really 3 meetings of the ministers, because there was a sort of early meeting in New York last September on the margins of the UN General Assembly, then the meeting in Samarkand, and now Washington... I'm now able to say that this is a real thing that's going to last. I really do believe that it's established.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: They feel the same way?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: I also think that the five countries of the region feel the same way. I'm judging that based on their participation, which has been not only did they show up. But they've been very active. They're actively participating and coming up with ideas and suggestions, and also just based on the specific things that I hear from the foreign ministers and other officials in those governments. I do think they see it as a useful forum, although I'd say they also want to see it prove itself as being useful in a practical way, and it hasn't done that yet, I would acknowledge. They think it's useful. They see it as something that is a kind of natural outgrowth of our discussions over a long period of time, their discussions with the United States over a long period of time. I think the countries of the region are invested in it, the United States is invested in it, and it will continue.

Now, we do have a transition coming up in our country, a political transition. One of the first agenda items for us with the new team that will come in early next year will be to talk about the C5+1 and explain the benefit we believe that is to be gained from it. What I have seen over time in my own career, going from ... I started in the Clinton administration in the late '90s, and then saw the transition to the Bush administration, and then from the Bush to the Obama, is especially with respect to Central Asia and the broader Eurasia region, a lot of continuity, more than you might expect sometimes by the rhetoric that you hear in campaigns and so on, a lot of continuity. The basic underlying interests remain the same, the ones that I started off with at the beginning.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: The goals in general - they have not changed.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: The goals in general. Because of that, I'm confident that the new team, the new leadership, will see this as an important investment of our time and diplomatic resources. I expect it to continue. I think that the important focus right now, especially for the rest of this year and early next, is to get the projects that we announced in early August launched and really started, because it's those projects that are going to give substance, that are going to give a reality, to this format of C5+1.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: You have several critics, many critics I would say, in Washington who say that, "America hasn't really given enough attention to Central Asia. Especially not enough attention by the White House." American presidents have never visited the region, and there were some expectations that this president could or at least the vice president would visit the region. How do you feel when you hear those kind of criticisms that, if president has never paid a visit to the region, it's not that important? What shows interest?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah. Your question, how do I feel, obviously I would like as much attention as possible, to be paid to Central Asia, because it's what I focus my everyday work on, and which I care deeply about. At the same time, I do think it's significant that Secretary Kerry made the trip he made last fall. That was a real sign of US interest in the region and commitment. For the Secretary of State to devote a week of his time to travel to 5 countries and spend significant time in them, is a sign of interest and a recognition of why the region matters to the United States.

I also think that Central Asia in some ways doesn't always get the attention it should, because it's been relatively stable. I think it is just a fact. It's a reality of foreign policy that I've learned over the years that a lot of attention goes to regions that are in turmoil or where there's a lot of violence, unrest, and so on. I guess, to some extent, I count my blessings sometimes that I don't get more attention from the highest levels every single day to my region. Seriously, I think that the underlying interests that I identified at the very beginning remain in the minds of not only the State Department, but the White House, the Pentagon, and other parts of our government, and will continue to motivate attention being paid to the region in the future. Again, it's not going to be equivalent to some other parts of the world, but then there are lots of countries in the world that don't get presidential visits or that level of attention.

I prefer to focus on what we have, which is very significant, I would say. Not only the Secretary's visit last fall, but this ministerial we just had in August. I think, as you know, when the ministers were here, in addition to the meeting with the Secretary, they also had an event at the US Chamber of Commerce that was chaired by the Deputy Secretary of the Commerce Department, Bruce Andrews. They also attended a reception in honor of the 25th anniversary of the independence of the countries that was hosted by our Secretary of Energy, Secretary Moniz. Throughout the US government, there is, I would say, a significant amount of attention being paid to Central Asia.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: We hear again and again that the United States will not compete with Russia and China in the region, that US sees itself as a unique partner and it plays a completely different role than Russia and China... What does that mean? That sort of sounds defeatist sometimes.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: It's not intended to be defeatist, because defeatist implies, again, that it's a contest, right?

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: That there's a winner and a loser. Someone is victorious and someone is defeated. That's not the way we view it. We think that we have a lot of common goals with other countries in the region, including Russia and China. The stability goal I talked about, the economic connectedness goal, the idea that these countries should be more prosperous and should succeed, I think these are shared goals. Our belief is that our relationships and our activity in the region is not coming at the expense of anyone else. We hope that other countries will have a similar attitude, even though we know that they sometimes don't.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: No, they don't and they are watching. They are closely watching every step that America takes in the region. You know that. You cannot stop people from speculating too, especially those who live in the region. They are always comparing, like, "This is what we're getting from Russia. This is what we're getting from China. This is what we're not getting from the United States," even though the US is so far geographically and may not be willing to get involved in so many other things.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: Yeah. I think the approach that I've always tried to take in dealing with international partners is to say to them, "Look, I'm going to tell you what we can do, what our resources allow us to do, what our diplomatic capital allows us to do. I will not promise anything that we can't deliver, but I will also tell you that I will deliver what we promise." That's the approach that we take in Central Asia too. We're not going to make grandiose claims about what the United States will do in the region, but what we say we're going to do, we'll do. I think over time that that approach gets credit, that it's appreciated and it builds trust.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: At the same time, when America is in, people tend to over expect, right? Because you're the superpower, so people want more. They expect more.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: There is that tendency. I've seen it, again, myself, especially ...

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: How do you deal with it?

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: ... in my old job with direct foreign assistance. I constantly got that kind of expectation. I think, again, you just have to be clear with people. You just have to say upfront, "This is what we're able to do," based on whatever funding we have, whatever ability to project US role in the region, and not contribute to building those expectations beyond what can be delivered.

Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for talking to us.

DAS Daniel Rosenblum: You're welcome. Thank you!