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first-ever c5+1 presidential gathering: an “historic moment” for the united states and central asia

First-Ever C5+1 Presidential Gathering: An “Historic Moment” for the United States and Central Asia

Author: Haley Nelson

Sep 21, 2023

Image source: US Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic

“This is a historic moment,” U.S. President Joe Biden told the leaders of Central Asia during their first-ever C5+1 presidential gathering on September 19.

On the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, the C5+1 leaders, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmenistan's President Serdar Berdimuhamedow, and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, met with President Biden for the first time. The meeting covered the development of the U.S.-Central Asia strategic partnership, cooperation in trade, economic opportunities, expansion of their political dialog, U.S. investment, green development, the Middle Corridor, regional security, cross-border crime, and humanitarian topics. 

Since the C5+1 was established in Samarkand in 2015, a U.S. President had never met with the group, but the Biden administration changed this. As the world is engaged in “a battle between democracy and autocracy,” President Biden is boldly standing behind Central Asia, presenting the region with an alternative partnership distinct from its historical ties to neighboring nations in the North and East. “We’re building on years of close cooperation between Central Asia and the United States — a cooperation that is grounded in our shared commitment to sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity,” President Biden stated.

To help elevate U.S.-Central Asia “cooperation to new heights," President Biden announced the United States will be increasing its “counterterrorism cooperation, including increased U.S. security funding to Central Asia,” strengthening “regional economic connectivity” through a new business platform that will connect our private sectors, creating “a new critical minerals dialogue to strengthen our energy security and supply chains,” and “launching a new initiative on disability rights.” Furthermore, Biden added the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is set to host a C5+1 Regional Connectivity Ministerial in Central Asia this October, aimed at outlining concrete plans for inclusive and sustainable economic development.

Landlocked Central Asia has recently found itself in a geopolitical squeeze as economic and political uncertainties emanating from Russia and China have placed dual-sided weight on the region. But, with this meeting, the United States is positioning itself as a stabilizing counterbalance. Biden sent a clear message to Central Asia: The United States is ready to uphold the “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the C5.”

And this desire to strengthen cooperation isn’t a one-sided reach. During the UNGA, Central Asia made it clear that they are ready for greater global engagement. "I am convinced that the time has come to start an inclusive, full-scale, and systemic dialogue between Central Asia and the UN,” said Turkmenistan’s President, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, who usually remains committed to Turkmenistan’s policy of neutrality.

During Kazakh President Tokayev’s UNGA speech, Tokayev also reiterated his desire to strengthen ties with his Western partners: “Kazakhstan stands ready to cooperate with all relevant actors in a spirit of inclusiveness, multilateralism, and goodwill.” However, the voices of middle powers and developing countries, like Kazakhstan, must be amplified, Tokayev stressed. 

Ongoing political and security turmoil in Ukraine has led the United States to recognize that it must seek a greater role in Central Asia. “I genuinely believe the world is safer when we stand together," Biden stated after the C5+1 meeting.  

Following the C5+1 meeting with President Biden, business leaders and high-level officials from the United States and the Caspian region met at the Harvard Club in New York City for the 4th Caspian Business Forum to further expand on the priorities set at the C5 meeting. Over 200 public and private sector attendees engaged in a dialog addressing what concrete steps the United States can take to help bridge the diplomatic gap with the region. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Energy Resources promoted this event as a platform for cooperation, further signaling the United States’ commitment to supporting this strategically important region. 

“A new Central Asia is emerging, and it will be more independent, economically resilient, and interconnected than ever before,” the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Anjali Kaur, stated during the event. 

“We at USAID are asking hard questions about how to unlock the region’s economic growth potential, including the proverbial Trans-Caspian corridor,” Deputy Assistant Administrator Anjali Kaur continued. 

“Through this elevation of the C5+1 format, we seem to demonstrate to our Central Asian friends that we are uniquely reliable partners,” Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Energy Resources at the U.S. Department of State, Geoffrey Pyatt, stated at the Caspian Business Forum at the Harvard Club in New York City just hours after the C5+1 meeting.

As geopolitics is entering “a new, increasingly bitter, period of geopolitical confrontation,” as Tokayev stated in his UNGA address, the United States urges Central Asian leaders to reassess their political, economic, and security postures. Although the meeting was relatively brief, the promise of increased U.S.-Central Asia engagement could provide a mutually beneficial relationship between these distant regions. President Biden added that he might soon meet with the C5+1 leaders on their own turf – a historical notion because no U.S. President has ever traveled to Central Asia during his term in office. “I look forward to seeing you soon, possibly in one of your countries," he said.

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