DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves tomorrow for central Asia, a region where the US has been using military bases for operations in Afghanistan. Rice will be promoting democracy in former Soviet republics there. At the same time, she'll be trying to keep the US in the good graces of countries which, along with Russia and China, have been saying the US should leave. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports it will be a tricky mission.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
Rice's itinerary is noteworthy for the country that is missing, Uzbekistan. Washington has been demanding a full investigation into a violent crackdown there on protesters. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has balked. He's also ordered US troops out of a key air base that was being used for the war in Afghanistan. When one reporter asked whether it would be better for Rice to go to Uzbekistan and make her case, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Freed had this to say.
Mr. DANIEL FREED (Assistant Secretary of State): I obviously do think it's a wise decision that the secretary has made not to go, and I wonder what your question might have been had she decided to go, something like, I imagine, `Why are you going to that bloody dictatorship? Aren't you undercutting all your rhetoric about the freedom agenda and acting as rank hypocrites?' Right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELEMEN: One expert says part of the problem with Uzbekistan is that the US did not press its democracy agenda hard enough when it could have. Martha Brill Olcott, author of a new book called "Central Asia's Second Chance," says the Uzbeks thought they were entering a strategic partnership with the US when they granted America basing rights. She says everyone was expecting a big US investment, which never materialized, and then they were shaken by the revolutions elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
Ms. MARTHA BRILL OLCOTT (Author, "Central Asia's Second Chance"): I think a lot of the regional actors felt just like the Uzbeks, that they expected more from the US presence in central Asia. And once the color revolutions began, the central Asian leaders began to be very nervous about what close ties with the US might bring.
KELEMEN: Rice's first stop is Kyrgyzstan, the scene of one of those revolutions, the so-called Tulip Revolution. Street protests forced out the longtime president earlier this year, and in July, voters elected Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Olcott says it was not the revolution democracy activists had hoped for, and again she says American's wait-and-see attitude has meant little aid to help promote the kind of government the US wants there.
Ms. OLCOTT: President Bakiyev is already, you know, thinking about consolidating his power, and he may well have finished consolidating his power and reducing, again, the political playing field in the country before the allocation process in the US begins to grind to its next phase.
KELEMEN: Rice will be meeting government and civil society representatives in Kyrgyzstan and visit the base that the US has been using there. She'll make a day trip to Afghanistan before heading on the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Daniel Freed, the assistant secretary of State, says the US is under no illusions about democracy in these countries, saying Washington is just looking for some concrete steps.
Mr. FREED: We look for civil society being present and operating without fear. We look for elections getting better. We look for contested elections.
KELEMEN: The State Department doesn't seem to be putting too much pressure on the president of the oil-rich nation of Kazakhstan, which is holding elections later this year. As for the much poorer country of Tajikistan, the State Department did raise concerns about the jailing of an opposition leader last week.
Rice's trip is aimed at shoring up America's presence in the region as a whole. It comes at a time when Russia and China are trying to do the same without making demands for democracy. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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