Karimov courted by Britain and US despite human rights record

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The Independent Online

Uzbekistan's human right's record may be internationally criticised, but this has not stopped the country enjoying the best relations with London, Washington and Moscow.

Uzbekistan's human right's record may be internationally criticised, but this has not stopped the country enjoying the best relations with London, Washington and Moscow.

The highlight in President Islam Karimov's scrap book is no doubt a 45-minute head-to-head meeting with President George Bush in the Oval Office in March 2002. Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to offer strategic assistance to the US after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The US used its airbases for operations over Afghanistan.

Tommy Franks, the US Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan operation, held a press conference in Tashkent in January 2002. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Tashkent in October 2001, shortly before a contingent of 1,000 American troops arrived in the country. He visited again in February last year to discuss military relations. US-Uzbek military relations are "growing stronger every month", he said adding: "We have benefited greatly in our efforts in the global war on terror and in Afghanistan from the wonderful co-operation we've received from the government of Uzbekistan."

On 12 August 2004, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the US Joint Chief's of Staff, visited Tashkent and met President Karimov. He announced an additional $12m in aid to help the country reduce it's biological weapons. This was shortly after the US had cut it's $500m aid to the county by $18m in protest at its human rights record. "I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think that the United States benefited greatly from our partnership and strategic relationship with Uzbekistan," he told a press conference.

Two years earlier, in August 2002, Mr Karimov was also honoured with a visit by Paul O'Neill, the US Treasury Secretary. "It's a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone [Mr Karimov] with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country," Mr O'Neill said

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has also had numerous meetings with Mr Karimov. One, for example, saw him pay a rare visit to Moscow in April last year, a day after Russia's giant gas company Gazprom announced enormous investment in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek Defence Minister, Kodir Gulamov, paid an official visit to the UK as a guest of the British Government in October 2003. He held talks with the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. The ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Co-operation in the Field of Defence. In February that year, the UK Government granted Uzbekistan an "open licence" to import weapons from Britain.

In March this year, however, a planned visit to the country by the Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell was cancelled by the Uzbekis after he insisted on talking about the country's human rights record.

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