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assistant secretary donald lu visits kazakhstan, turkmenistan, and uzbekistan

Assistant Secretary Donald Lu Visits Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Author: Josephine Freund


Image source: Orient.tm

November 6-11, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu paid an official visit to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The U.S. State Department announced that the purpose of his visit is to “reinforce the United States’ commitment to each country’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and our shared goal of a prosperous, secure, and democratic Central Asia.”

Coinciding with this visit was the launch of the Economic Resilience Initiative in Central Asia. This initiative, “will provide $25 million in funding to bolster regional trade routes and capacity, educate and train a skilled workforce, and attract international investment to Central Asia.”

In Turkmenistan, Lu met with President Serdar Berdimuhamedov to discuss developing bilateral relations between the United States and Turkmenistan. Lu stated that U.S.-Turkmenistan relations should be “built on the principles of constructiveness, and equal and mutually-beneficial partnership.” During the visit to Turkmenistan, Lu and his delegation also met with Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, during which they discussed the C5+1 format as well as wider regional issues such as the current instability stemming from bordering Afghanistan. Also on the agenda was developing the Turkmen-American Business Council and educational opportunities for Turkmen students. About this, Lu announced, “We received the wonderful news from the government of Turkmenistan just this week that permission has been received to resume the recruitment of candidates for the FLEX exchange program,” which will allow Turkmen students to study in the United States.

Lu’s visit to Uzbekistan focused on “meet[ing] with government officials as well as civil society and cultural groups to further advance [the U.S.] support for women and girls’ empowerment and freedom of religion or belief.” While in Bukhara, Lu met with former religious prisoner, Jahongri Kulijanov

In Kazakhstan, Lu’s main focus was reportedly to, “meet with economic and business leaders to discuss Central Asia’s economic stability and regional connectivity as well as civil society leaders to support their vital role in shaping Kazakhstan’s future.” This was especially timely because Kazakhstan held its election that started on October 21 and ended November 18.

This visit was the second of its kind in 2022 and comes at a time when the United States has been increasing its engagement in the Caspian region. Previously, May 23-27, Lu visited Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. The purpose of that visit was, “to strengthen U.S. relations with the region and advance collaborative efforts to create a more connected, prosperous, and secure Central Asia.” The agenda during that visit was to strengthen economic partnership, strengthen relations with officials, support initiatives for women’s empowerment, and discuss humanitarian assistance for various issues including the refugee crisis from Afghanistan. The U.S. delegation also surveyed the reform process in Kazakhstan as well as participated in the U.S.-Tajikistan Annual Bilateral Consultations.

Increased attention from the U.S. government to Central Asia was emphasized in the recent U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) that describes the threat that Russia poses to the sovereignty of neighboring countries. It warns of the threat posed by Russia’s “longstanding efforts to destabilize its neighbors using intelligence and cyber capabilities, and its blatant attempts to undermine internal democratic processes in countries across Europe, Central Asia, and around the world.”

Assistant Secretary Lu confirmed increased U.S. interest in the region in an interview with Vlast: “Washington's interest in the region is definitely increasing. Interest in cooperation is also growing on the part of our partners in Central Asia. This is a strategically important part of the world that is going through big changes. We want to show that the United States is a constructive partner for the region, especially at a time when it faces various challenges: rising oil prices, rising food prices, and the difficulty of exporting goods to international markets.”

The visits show not only that the United States is paying closer attention to developing relations with Central Asian countries, but also that countries in the region are increasingly more attuned to developing relations with the United States. Toward this, Lu affirmed, “The countries of the region, while maintaining existing interaction with Russia, are looking for ways to diversify their economies and build new ties with other countries, including the United States. And if you look at the trade statistics, every state in Central Asia has seen a big increase in trade with the United States. As we can see, many American companies are leaving the Russian market and are looking for opportunities to enter the markets of Central Asia.”

Increased U.S. attention toward fostering relations with and development of Central Asian countries is significant also because of the growing threats to regional sovereignty stemming from Russia, Iran, and China. The United States, in helping bolster Central Asian countries’ private sectors, civil societies, and political engagement, is a boon not only to the region, but also to overall security in the world.

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