|06DUSHANBE858||2006-05-10 06:39:00||SECRET||Embassy Dushanbe|
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 07 DUSHANBE 000858
1. (C) SUMMARY: Assistant Secretary of State for South and
Central Asia Richard Boucher and National Security Council
Senior Adviser Elisabeth Millard met with President Emomali
Rahmonov for nearly two hours on May 8 to discuss strengthening
cooperation between Tajikistan and the United States in regional
integration and infrastructure development, border security, and
democratic reform. Rahmonov emphasized the need for increased
regional cooperation, specifically greater integration of
Afghanistan, but pointed out with Karimov in power Uzbekistan
remains a hindrance to the process. He asked for greater U.S.
involvement, particularly on hydropower projects,
counter-narcotics, and border security. Rahmonov explained
Tajikistan's relationship with Iran is purely commercial and
advocated a diplomatic solution to the current
uranium-enrichment crisis. Rahmonov reassured Boucher his "firm
position" is that the upcoming November presidential election be
fair, transparent, and meet international standards. He asked
for U.S. assistance in debt relief and for an increase in U.S.
educational exchange programs for Tajik students.
2. (C) SUMMARY CONTINUED: Although the meeting did not
necessarily break new ground, it was especially useful at this
time because it reconfirmed U.S. high-level commitment and views
in the key areas of vital interest to the bilateral relationship
and policy for the larger region: security issues, regional
energy and infrastructure development, and the need to continue
democratic evolution and to conduct a fair presidential election
that meets international standards. Embassy Dushanbe would
warmly welcome more such visits by Ambassador Boucher and other
high-level U.S. officials at any time. END SUMMARY
SPONTANEOUS APPLAUSE FOR THE UNITED STATES
3. (C) Assistant Secretary Boucher told Rahmonov he was in
Dushanbe to advance the U.S.-Tajik relationship and to continue
conversations Rahmonov has had with Secretary Rice and other
senior U.S. officials. He emphasized the United States wants to
help Tajikistan further strengthen its security, sovereignty,
and independence; enlarge its choices in the region; and promote
regional cooperation, including through the export of
electricity and other infrastructure projects.
4. (C) Rahmonov responded that further developing the
U.S.-Tajik relationship and achieving concrete results is a
priority in his foreign policy. He recounted that in his annual
speech to Parliament on April 20, he had praised Tajikistan's
bilateral relationship with the United States as his
government's most important historical achievement. He reminded
his guests that when he had noted the dollar amount of U.S.
assistance to Tajikistan in the past three years, the members of
Parliament had spontaneously applauded, the only applause during
the foreign-policy part of his speech. Rahmonov said he wants
continued cooperation with the United States and strengthened
mutual efforts to combat narcotics, terrorism, and extremism.
He stressed the importance of developing good regional
relations, particularly by integrating Afghanistan into the
region. He would like increased economic cooperation with the
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United States, especially in hydropower and energy, and said he
is working with other countries in the region to promote a
favorable investment climate. He thanked Boucher for mentioning
these issues in his recent speeches and testimony to Congress,
indicating he was familiar with (or at least had been well
briefed on) the U.S. texts.
"REGIONAL COOPERATION IS LIKE OXYGEN"
5. (C) Rahmonov said he firmly promotes regional cooperation,
despite some obstreperous players. The key is to integrate
Afghanistan. He asserted, "Regional cooperation is like oxygen
for Tajikistan!" He suggested Tajikistan's hydropower and
mineral resources should interest not just other regional
players but also South Asians. He said the key is to involve
Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and others in this development, and
added, "The United States cannot stand aside from this." He
vowed to continue economic reforms to attract more Western
investors, and expressed appreciation for U.S. efforts to create
a regional electricity market. He praised the U.S.-funded
Pyanzh Bridge project as a "symbol of common values and
interests, and a powerful signal to investors."
INTEGRATING INFRASTRUCTURE, ENHANCING SOVEREIGNTY
6. (S) Rahmonov pointed out Tajikistan currently has to depend
on the good will of difficult neighbors to get its exports to
world markets. The only way to export its annual 400,000 tons
of cotton and 400,000 tons of aluminum is by rail "10,000 km
through 10 countries" to reach the Baltic ports, dependent on
political whims in Uzbekistan and Russia. He asked, "How can we
speak as equals with Russia when they can block our export
life-line at any moment?"
7. (C) Rahmonov added that during his meetings May 4-6 with
President Nazarbayev in Astana, the Kazakhs announced the
creation of a "green corridor" to increase the trade of fruit
and vegetables between Kazakhstan and Tajikistan via air.
Rahmonov said he also advocated to Nazarbayev Kazakhstan's
participation in re-constructing the $62 million road from Osh
(Kyrgyzstan) to Dushanbe.
8. (C) The Assistant Secretary confirmed the United States
wants to help Tajikistan develop its infrastructure, noting U.S.
participation is not a competition with other players.
Tajikistan should welcome many investors. "Multiple
opportunities give you multiple choices." Boucher added that
the less Tajikistan relies on one country or company, the more
will be accomplished. He stated the United States supports the
efforts of the U.S. energy company AES to become involved in
regional energy infrastructure, and would appreciate Rahmonov's
support for this effort.
"CRUEL-MINDED KARIMOV CANNOT BE TRUSTED"
9. (S) Rahmonov noted in its 15-year history Tajikistan has
cooperated productively with all of its neighbors and, indeed,
with every other country in the world, except for "dictatorially
domineering Uzbekistan" - and that is because of Uzbek President
Karimov. Rahmonov said he views Uzbekistan, not Afghanistan, as
the biggest threat to Tajikistan's security. He stated, "While
Karimov is in power, full regional cooperation is not possible."
DUSHANBE 00000858 003 OF 007
10. (C) To illustrate Uzbekistan's malign attitude toward its
neighbors, Rahmonov cited Uzbekistan's difficult relations with
its neighbors Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, despite
having joined the Eurasian Economic Community, and Tashkent's
restrictive visa regime that makes it difficult for Tajiks and
Uzbeks to cross their common border. As before, he also cited
Uzbek landmines on their common border. He noted in the past
year these landmines have killed 70 Tajiks and wounded 200 more.
He said, "All were civilians, simple people, mostly women and
children, not the terrorists and drug-traffickers Karimov claims
are his targets."
11. (S) Rahmonov said flatly, "Karimov is cruel-minded. He
will never forgive Kyrgyz President Bakiev for permitting 500
Uzbek refugees to enter Kyrgyzstan after the May 2005 events in
12. (C) The Assistant Secretary admitted that Uzbekistan indeed
is very troubling, not just because of its internal problems,
but also because it is closing itself off from everyone else in
the region. He noted new plans for roads and electricity
transmission in the region have "crooked lines" to work around
Uzbekistan. He said we would welcome Tashkent's participation
in regional cooperation and integration, but they aren't playing
at this time. Althought the door needs to be kept open for the
future, we cannot wait and allow Uzbekistan to hold back
progress in the region.
13. (S) Later in the conversation, Rahmonov, more relaxed and
colloquial, returned to the issue of international and regional
cooperation. He mused, "It's not easy being a small country
when the big countries have us by the throat sometimes. And
look at the post-Soviet countries - the neighbors celebrate and
drink champagne if you have problems. Honestly, this region is
worse than the Balkans. The region has thousands of problems,
and everyone is working against each other. And Karimov is the
worst. He once said Uzbekistan is the very best friend of the
United States, but now look where he stands. But he doesn't
stand 'alone.' He has 'new friends' because of his 2007
election. We do not trust Karimov. While he's in power,
there's no hope for regional cooperation."
"REDUCE AFGHAN DRUGS? BUILD DOSTI ZHUM"
14. (C) Rahmonov averred the main threat from Afghanistan is
narcotics. Each interested country and internal donor has its
own bilateral agreements with Afghanistan, but no unified plan
exists, in Rahmonov's view. He identified the root of the
problem as impoverished Afghan farmers who have no other
economic choice but to grow opium. He recounted when he visited
Afghan Badakhshan and saw opium-poppy fields, he asked the
farmers, "Why are you growing this poison?" They responded if
they grew wheat, they couldn't afford to buy food and clothes
for their families, send their children to school, and pay the
extortionist taxes warlords demand. With the income from opium,
they can lead decent lives.
15. (C) Rahmonov, as he has before, strongly recommended the
United States lead the effort to build Dasti Zhum dam on the
Pyanzh River between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. He repeated
estimates that Dasti Zhum would irrigate 1.5 million hectares of
Afghan land and support 3.5 million Afghans to grow profitable
alternative crops, not to mention the benefits to creating small
DUSHANBE 00000858 004 OF 007
businesses and industries.
BORDER SECURITY EQUALS REGIONAL STABILITY
16. (C) Turning to the related issue of border security,
Rahmonov deemed it essential for stability in the region. He
asked Boucher to take note that Tajikistan had removed the
Russians from the border to increase Tajikistan's sovereignty.
He asked rhetorically, "Do you think that was easy?" He noted
Tajik Border Guards are on the front line curtailing the supply
of drugs from Afghanistan through Central Asia and Russia to
Europe. Rahmonov thanked the United States for essential
assistance to Tajikistan's border guards, but said the troops
frankly need more. Additionally, he advocated the EU should
work to build border-guard capacity on the Afghan side of the
17. (C) Recounting his experience of rebuilding Tajikistan
after its civil war, Rahmonov said he understands what is going
on in Afghanistan and sees Karzai needs more support. Rahmonov
also commented, "Karzai needs to be a little stronger."
18. (C) The Assistant Secretary expressed U.S. admiration for
the Tajik Border Guards' control of the border. He said the
United States is glad to help, and will seriously look at what
more we can do.
IRAN: "INVESTMENT, DA; IDEOLOGY, NYET"
19. (C) Because the Iraq war continues, Rahmonov stated, new
instability in Iran would not be in the region's best interest.
He said he fears that escalating tension between Iran and the
West might create problems for Central Asia by inciting and
strengthening radical clerics and religious extremists. He
advocated a peaceful resolution to the current crisis through
political and diplomatic means. Such a resolution, he judged,
would raise the United States' status with Islamic countries.
20. (S) Rahmonov recalled his visit to Tehran in January when
he asked President Ahmadinejad, at the request of the United
States, to work toward an internationally acceptable diplomatic
resolution. Rahmonov mused, "Amadinejad is not Khatami."
Khatami had been businesslike and pragmatic, but "Amadinejad is
a toy in the hands of the radical clerics."
21. (C) Rahmonov alluded to Tajikistan's vigilance against
Iran's extremist ideology, but said frankly he had allowed Iran
to invest in the Sangtuda-2 hydropower station and Anzob tunnel
because no other country was willing to cough up the money at
22. (S) Almost as a footnote, but pointedly, Rahmonov alleged
Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party is funded and influenced
23. (C) The Assistant Secretary assured Rahmonov the United
States is working hard for a diplomatic resolution to the
current international crisis with Iran, but he also pointed out
Tehran has been interfering in Iraq and the Middle East peace
process and continues to support international terrorism. The
Assistant Secretary said we understand Tajikistan's interests in
Iranian investment in Tajikistan's infrastructure, but he asked
that Rahmonov help us where he can with Iran and relay
DUSHANBE 00000858 005 OF 007
information on Iranian activity in Central Asia.
RAHMONOV SAYS NOVEMBER PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WILL BE FAIR AND
24. (C) The Assistant Secretary suggested Rahmonov appears to
have genuine popular support and would most likely win a free
election. His reputation and Tajikistan's status in the
international community would be enhanced if he ran a fair and
transparent election that meets international standards. He
urged Rahmonov to work closely with the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe and other well-wishers.
25. (C) Rahmonov initially postured that he has not decided to
run again, but then relaxed and joked that it has been on his
mind. Turning more serious, he assured the Assistant Secretary
his "firm position" is to conduct a free and transparent
election in a democratic manner. In his recent speech to
parliament, he reminded, he had noted Tajikistan has all the
conditions and experience needed to conduct an election
according to international standards, and he had called on all
political parties and local authorities to follow election laws
and not violate international standards.
26. (C) He noted with a bit of pride, he, unlike Nazarbayev and
Niyazov, had "never studied in the politburo school" but "comes
from the people." He asserted he knows the value of stability
and peace. As he often does for high-level visitors, Rahmonov
recounted how he was plucked out of the national assembly during
the darkest early days of the civil war - when it was meeting in
Khujand because the Islamists had captured the parliament
building in Dushanbe - and was plunked down at a table with a
blank sheet of paper and a pencil and told "to create a
government" when the country had no constitution, no military,
no flag, no national anthem, and all the banks had been looted
bare. He briefly summarized that he subsequently had
repatriated nearly one million Tajik refugees, some from as far
away as Belarus, and had integrated the competing "mujahidin"
into a new national army. He mused that when he now speaks in
Parliament, "It's like looking into a mirror. I see the former
President of Tajikistan and all the warlords who once wanted to
kill each other. Now they're colleagues in a democratic
27. (C) Rahmonov noted Tajikistan now has nearly 3,000
registered NGOs, more than 22 private radio and television
stations, hundreds [sic] of newspapers, and eight legally
registered political parties. Rahmonov suggested this is not a
bad start for a young country.
28. (C) Noting that democracy is an evolutionary process
requiring continual adjustments and improvements, Boucher
stressed two key improvements for the November election that
would further promote democracy in Tajikistan. Political
parties and candidates need access to media to get their views
out for open discussion. Currently, political parties are
permitted only 15 minutes on-air time during the two months
before an election. Media access for politicians and parties
means they should receive access on state media, or the
government should allow truly independent electronic media
stations to register and operate.
29. (C) Boucher also requested President Rahmonov assist in
DUSHANBE 00000858 006 OF 007
registering National Democratic Institute and Internews. "I
would appreciate anything you can do to normalize their
situations." He added he was pleased to hear Rahmonov's
commitment to improving the democratic process, and he again
reminded the President NGOs have an important role to play.
"Tajikistan can set an example on this issue."
DEBT RELIEF: "SYMBOLIC, YES, BUT IMPORTANT"
30. (C) Rahmonov praised the G-8 for its initiative to write
off poor countries' debts. He noted debt relief would promote
further economic reform, and that Tajikistan would use the
freed-up funds for social investment. He recalled the IMF has
already canceled Tajikistan's debt, in the HIPC framework, and
hopes the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development will follow suit.
31. (C) Rahmonov asked that the Assistant Secretary urge the
U.S. government to forgive Tajikistan's $18 million bilateral
debt to the U.S. Commodity Credit Corporation for humanitarian
assistance during the civil war and in the following period of
instability. He said $18 million is admittedly a small amount,
but forgiveness of this debut would be a powerful symbolic
gesture of belief in the reformist direction Tajikistan has
chosen. He hinted such forgiveness could strengthen Dushanbe's
hand with Moscow. The Assistant Secretary said he needs to
study the issue further and promised to look it.
"PLEASE GIVE US MORE EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGES"
32. (SBU) Rahmonov requested the United States increase the
number of slots for Tajik students to study in the United
States. He said firmly, "It would only benefit Tajikistan and
the United States to have more Tajiks in American universities."
Ambassador Boucher fully agreed with the concept, and said he
would do what he could to convince the U.S. Congress to allocate
more money for this worthy purpose.
33. (C) During informal parting remarks, Rahmonov said warmly
he was pleased with the conversation, and his relaxed, cordial
body language confirmed his assessment, as did Foreign Policy
Adviser Rahmatulloyev to the Ambassador in a phone call the
following day. Further, the official Tajik press release of the
meeting was unusually accurate and "un-spun." Although the
meeting did not necessarily break new ground, it was especially
useful at this time because it reconfirmed U.S. high-level
commitment and views in the key areas of vital interest to the
bilateral relationship: security issues, regional energy and
infrastructure development, and the need to continue democratic
evolution and to conduct a fair presidential election that meets
international standards. Rahmonov highly values respect and
"objectivity." He doesn't like high-handed demands and table
pounding. The Assistant Secretary's light touch and deep
knowledge of the issues established a solid working relationship
with Rahmonov. The Tajik President can be difficult, yes. No,
he's not the Thomas Jefferson of Central Asia. But he's no
Karimov or Niyazov by a long shot. Embassy Dushanbe would
warmly welcome at any time more such visits by Ambassador
Boucher and NSC Senior Director Millard and other high-level
U.S. officials. END COMMENT.
DUSHANBE 00000858 007 OF 007
34. (U) The Assistant Secretary did not have an opportunity to
clear this cable before departing Dushanbe.