Clinton expected in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan: officials

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected Friday to arrive for security talks in the ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan, to be followed by a weekend stop in neighbouring Uzbekistan, local officials said.

The expected weekend stops are part of a tour that has taken the top US diplomat to Islamabad and Kabul as Washington grapples for an exit to the US-led 10-year military conflict in Afghanistan ahead of presidential polls next year.

It will be Clinton's first visit to the impoverished nation of Tajikistan, which shares a porous 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with war-ravaged Afghanistan, and her second trip to Tashkent since travelling to Uzbekistan in December 2010.

She is expected to meet Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe and Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent over the weekend.

Amid tight security surrounding Clinton's visit, a Tajik government official said only that Dushanbe was "awaiting a high-ranking figure."

In February, the US ambassador to Tajikistan, Ken Gross, said Clinton might visit the country later in the year.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both former Soviet republics, agreed in February 2009 to permit the overland transit of non-military supplies intended for NATO operations in Afghanistan.

A government official in Uzbekistan said US and Uzbek officials would discuss regional cooperation.

"Besides expanding Uzbek-US cooperation, other regional issues of mutual interest as well as Uzbekistan's involvement in rebuilding Afghanistan's economy will top the agenda."

Human rights groups accuse the isolated nation which also shares a strategic border with Afghanistan of cracking down on political dissent at home.

But for the United States and the European Union, Uzbekistan is a tempting ally in a region vital to NATO efforts against the Taliban.

Tashkent hosted a US airbase near the Afghan border after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, but closed it down in 2005 after the US government criticised Uzbekistan's army crackdown on a popular uprising in Andijan in the east of the country.

Clinton is also expected to visit a new powertrain plant in the Uzbek capital part-owned by General Motors. Its joint venture with state-owned UzAvtosanoat also produces Chevrolet cars for the domestic market and for export to Russia.

Moscow, which regards both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan among its close allies, is expected to keep a watchful eye over Clinton's trip.

During a globe-trotting visit that began earlier this week, Clinton also visited the tiny Gulf sultanate of Oman, as well as Libya and the Mediterranean island state of Malta.

© 2011 AFP

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