US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Uzbekistan’s autocratic President Islam Karimov on Sunday during his visit to the former Soviet Central Asian nation.
Kerry met with Karimov in the ancient city of Samarkand on the sidelines of a meeting between him and the foreign ministers of five Central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
During his four-day visit to the region, Kerry seeks to reassure the former Soviet states of Washington’s support in their battle against militancy and address their poor human rights records.
Central Asian states are increasing challenged with the spillover of insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan, where some militant cells have pledged their allegiance to the DAESH militant group.
Uzbekistan has played a key role in helping the US battle against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The US military acquired temporary basing rights in Uzbekistan as well as a number of other Central Asian countries during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which lasted from October 2001 to December 2014.
Uzbekistan and the US also signed an agreement to allow approximately 1,500 American military personnel to operate out of the Karshi Khanabad air base after then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Tashkent on Oct. 5, 2001.
In exchange, the US agreed to target hideouts belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Afghanistan. In September 2014, the IMU pledged its allegiance to DAESH.
Speaking from the Uzbek capital Tashkent in August, US deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, Daniel Rosenblum, confirmed that the US had also asked Uzbekistan to join their coalition in the fight against DAESH in Syria and Iraq.
"The United States does support the sovereignty and territorial integrity and independence of each country that's represented here," Kerry said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We should have no doubt that progress in democratic governance leads to gains in every other field about which we’re talking," he added.
Kerry also told reporters that he wanted to talk to his counterparts “about the human dimension, the issues of individuals and their participation in society.”
Reporters were then ushered out of the private meeting between Kerry and Karimov before an answer could be given to a question about the US State Department’s criticism on Uzbekistan’s human rights record.
The critique notes instances of torture, forced labour in the cotton fields and “endemic corruption” across the country, labelling the Uzbek government one of the most repressive in the world.
However, a US State Department summary released after the meeting said the two discussed "respect for human rights and political freedoms" in addition to economic issues.
According to Reuters, Kerry further said that the topics of regional security and the environment would be discussed.