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2011 Program & Events

Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake Returns to Uzbekistan

Assistant Secretary Blake speaks with students during the Chai Chat at the U.S. Embassy

Assistant Secretary Blake speaks with students during the Chai Chat at the U.S. Embassy

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. visited Uzbekistan on February 17 and 18 for the second Annual Bilateral Consultations between Uzbekistan and the United States, where officials discussed a range of political, economic, and security issues. This process began in Washington, DC, in December 2009, where Blake said the two countries “engaged in frank discussions about trade, human rights, democratic reform, defense cooperation, and regional issues such as Afghanistan.”

As a former Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi and Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Blake has significant experience in South and Central Asia and has repeatedly stressed the importance of Central Asia and Uzbekistan to the stability and prosperity of the entire region. He stated that one of his primary objectives is to “develop more durable and stable relations with the Central Asian countries.”

Blake also gave opening remarks at a Business Forum organized immediately after the political consultations. Representatives of several American companies participated in this forum which aimed to broaden the economic exchange between the U.S. and Uzbekistan.

During a press conference held shortly after the consultations, Blake answered questions from reporters on the content and purpose of the meetings, and on various aspects of U.S. policy in the region. He underscored that his visit “reflects the U.S. determination to strengthen ties with Uzbekistan across the full range of issues on our bilateral agenda.” (Full transcript)

While answering questions on a range of issues, Blake mentioned the importance of ‘people to people diplomacy’ in strengthening ties between countries. “We think that it is one of the most important parts of diplomacy,” he said, stressing that the U.S. government attaches “a great deal of importance to expanding our educational ties and our exchanges and our dialogue, particularly with Uzbekistan’s young people.”

In view of these priorities, Assistant Secretary Blake met with students and young professionals at the U.S. Embassy during the weekly “Chai Chat,” during which the audience hears a short presentation in English and then engages in a question and answer session with the speaker.

The students did not shy away from asking the Assistant Secretary questions on any number of issues. One of the topics covered was the issue of educational exchanges between the United States and Uzbekistan. “Educational exchanges are such an important part of building ties and people to people relationships,” said the Assistant Secretary.

Recalling his time in India with the State Department, Blake noted that now over 100,000 Indian students travel to the United States to receive an education, saying that this has had an incredibly positive impact on the relationship between the U.S. and India in just a short time. When asked what he wanted to see in the future regarding the bilateral relationship with Uzbekistan, Blake reiterated his desire for increased educational exchange. “We want more Uzbek students studying in America, and more American students studying in Uzbekistan at all levels. That would be great.”

The discussion didn’t remain focused exclusively on educational issues, though. The Assistant Secretary talked with the students about violence in Kyrgyzstan, the economics of trade agreements, the financial crisis, science and technology, ecological issues, Wikileaks, nuclear disarmament, and of course, Afghanistan. “Uzbekistan has played a very constructive role in helping to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan” through electricity and transportation linkages, and “we have a shared interest in stabilizing Afghanistan to prevent extremist threats against our country and yours,” said Blake.

Blake was especially interested in the ideas and opinions of the young women in the audience, and noted that the State Department wants to work more with young women, particularly on issues of women’s empowerment. He told the group of over 100 youth about the first ever Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference in Bishkek, which is planned for this summer.

He also talked about Secretary Clinton’s comments on internet freedom and its importance in the modern world. When he asked how many in the room were on Facebook, almost everyone raised their hands. “In America we are perhaps online too much,” said Blake, joking about sending emails to colleagues sitting in the next room, “but internet freedom establishes a sense of community and links you to the rest of the world.”