TASHKENT -- A high-level meeting between Uzbek and US officials this month is the latest sign of closer ties between the two countries and has drawn praise from analysts who say Uzbekistan is looking for reliable partners in the West.
The inaugural meeting of the US-Uzbekistan Strategic Partnership Dialogue took place December 13 in Tashkent.
Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov headed the Uzbek delegation, while Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu led the US team.
The United States and Uzbekistan elevated their annual discussions to a Strategic Partnership Dialogue in November 2020.
Both parties expressed interest in attracting American investors and large companies to implement joint initiatives in Uzbekistan, including in the agriculture, mining, textile and chemical industries, Kun.uz reported.
The two sides reviewed the prospects for enhancing co-operation between the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Uzbekistan's Direct Investment Fund on developing a mechanism for jointly executing investment projects.
They expressed readiness to hold a joint business forum for representatives of the American and Uzbek business communities in the first half of 2022 with the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.
For its part, the US delegation in a joint statement voiced its support for Uzbekistan's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The two side agreed to step up co-operation on the C5+1 platform to restore peace in neighbouring Afghanistan and organise the delivery of humanitarian aid to that country.
"The C5+1 is a platform that brings together the five states of Central Asia and the United States to discuss and work on issues of common concern," according to the US State Department.
"The United States expressed appreciation for the services made available to humanitarian actors at the Termez Cargo Centre and welcomed Uzbekistan’s initiative to create a regional logistics hub in Termez under the auspices of the United Nations to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan," said the joint statement.
Uzbekistan also expressed interest in safeguarding its cultural legacy and establishing an agreement with the United States on protecting cultural property.
Meanwhile, Kamilov thanked the United States for providing Uzbekistan with more than 6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the global COVAX programme.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently held an online event to mark its achievements in aiding Uzbekistan's response to COVID-19, the US embassy said in a statement Monday (December 20).
USAID provided more than $4.46 million (48.3 billion UZS) in assistance to the Uzbek government, which included the donation of machines for rapid COVID-19 testing.
Closer US ties
"Dialogue between the United States and Uzbekistan is a very positive thing," Anvar Nazirov, a political analyst and economist, told Caravanserai.
"Uzbekistan is doing a balancing act, trying to find a foothold in the West amid pressure from Russia," Nazirov said.
Such pressure will intensify, according to Nazirov, who added that the recent escalation of tensions in Ukraine and Russia's deteriorating relationship with the United States and Europe in general are worrying the Uzbek authorities.
The United States should revitalise its co-operation programme with Central Asia, following the example of the European Union, which pays more attention to the region, he said.
Central Asia is the site of many problems, and a surge in extremism is one of the main challenges, he added.
The "Islamic State" (IS) and al-Qaeda are strengthening their positions in Afghanistan, near the borders of Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian countries, Nazirov noted.
The United States should attach special importance to accelerating Uzbekistan's accession to the WTO, said Farkhod Mirzabayev, a Tashkent-based political analyst.
Such a move would help create a favourable environment for developing business and attracting investment, he said.
US officials need to regularly visit Central Asia and vice versa, and US-Uzbek relations need to branch out into different areas, he added.
"If we don't manage to attract American investment, at the very least we need to deepen cultural and humanitarian ties, open satellite campuses of American universities, promote English-language study and share innovative experiences and technologies," Mirzabayev said.
"I think Uzbekistan and the United States could effectively co-operate in education," said Anora Sodikova, an Uzbek journalist.
"Young Uzbeks absolutely need more slots in American universities. Attracting American technologies and investment in Uzbekistan's agriculture looks very promising," Sodikova told Caravanserai.