Clinton talks up plan to meet with Uzbek leader
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday defended her plans to meet Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, saying US contacts with the authoritarian regime can help improve the ex-Soviet country's rights record.
Clinton is visiting the impoverished ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan and will later fly to neighbouring Uzbekistan to meet Karimov who has wielded unchecked power in his Central Asian state for 22 years.
Karimov's bloody crackdown on a rare burst of unrest in the city of Andijan in 2005 left 187 people dead, according to official figures, or many hundreds, according to rights groups.
US ties with Uzbekistan have for years been a delicate balancing act as Washington seeks to encourage its government to improve its rights record while trying to secure Tashkent's support in its war on terror, given its strategic border with war-ravaged Afghanistan and its existing railway infrastructure.
"If you have no contact you will have no influence, and other countries will fill that vacuum who do not care about human rights," Clinton said in Tajikistan, referring to her plans to meet the Uzbek leader.
"It's a balancing act, but we try on an ongoing basis to get our message across and give heart to people inside countries that there are those outside who care about what is happening to them and are advocating for change on their behalf."
"I cannot promise you that there will be some immediate change...you know that change in many of these situations takes time and effort," she said at a town-hall style meeting with Tajik youth and civil society in the capital Dushanbe.
Clinton's stop in Tajikistan and a visit to Uzbekistan later in the day extend a tour that previously took her to Kabul and Islamabad as Washington grapples for an exit to the US-led 10-year military conflict in Afghanistan.
The top US diplomat is on a mission to promote her new Silk Road project linking the economies of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with those of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other central Asian countries, part of a long-term plan to boost regional peace and stability.
It is her first visit to the impoverished nation of Tajikistan, which shares a porous 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Afghanistan, and her second trip to Tashkent since travelling to Uzbekistan in December 2010.
Moscow, which regards both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan among its close allies, is expected to keep a watchful eye over Clinton's trip.
© 2011 AFP