Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much. Thank you all for joining us. It’s a true pleasure to be here in Samarkand. When I was much, much younger, my parents actually traveled to this great city, and they came back to the United States raving about the vibrant tiled domes of the mosques, the atlas scarves and dresses, and, above all, the melons. They could not stop talking about the melons of Uzbekistan. I remember them describing melons that were sweeter than honey, and some that were large enough to feed a family. So I’ve been longing to get to this country, and to this great city, to this great crossroads, for a very long time. 

And it’s especially meaningful, on this visit, to deepen the U.S. partnership not only with Uzbekistan, but with all five Central Asian nations. This is a partnership that stretches back over three decades. 

As you may know, the United States was among the first to recognize the independence of the Central Asian countries, back in December of 1991. President George H. W. Bush formally recognized these new nations, he said, “We stand tonight before a new world of hope and possibilities… The challenge for us now is to engage these new states in sustaining the peace and building a more prosperous future.”

And for the past thirty-two years, we have worked together toward those goals. Peace, and the more prosperous future. As the people of Central Asia emerged from the Soviet Union, a Soviet Union that stifled entrepreneurship and democracy, we supported the emergence of independent institutions critical to the functioning of modern states. As the countries here opened their economies, we helped bring in investors to get Central Asian entrepreneurs the capital they needed to grow their businesses. And as the people of Central Asia worked to boost the standard of living, we worked alongside them to improve health care, education, and livelihoods for their communities.

And today, we are building on that history of partnership. When President Biden met with the leaders of the C5 nations during the UN General Assembly last month, he said this was a “historic moment,” those were his words, a historic moment for our countries. And we really do see in this moment – to borrow President Bush’s words – as another “new world of hope and possibilities” for the people of Central Asia. And I am here, at President Biden’s request, to continue building on this momentum and to deepen our partnership with the countries and peoples of this critical region. 

We have been incredibly encouraged to see cooperation growing across the region, and reform agendas – that while many are still in their early stages – taking root in many places, with important progress already being made alongside civil society organizations in strengthening labor protections, for example, and taking on gender-based violence. I know that with more than half of the region’s population under 30 years old, a new generation – more connected to each other, and more connected to the world than ever before – is at the ready to contribute their talent, their energy and their ideas to their country's futures. Yesterday, I had the chance to chat with a group of eleventh graders, around 16, 17 years old, at a school in Tashkent who were buzzing with excitement about what they wanted to go on to achieve, the mark they had every intention on making on their communities. 

We are eager to help turn the possibility of this moment into progress for young people, so they will feel that progress every day in their daily lives. 

Today, I’m announcing regional efforts to do so in three essential areas – taking down barriers to economic growth, building sustainable and green energy systems, and combating misinformation. 

I’ll start with economic growth. Many of the barriers to growth that we see here in Central Asia are outdated processes that make trading across borders too slow, and too expensive to stay competitive. At today’s Ministerial, the United States agreed to work together with all five governments to automate these systems, and use common protocols and forms to reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders – all key aspects of membership, ultimately, in the World Trade Organization. 

Another significant barrier to growth is access to capital. So, USAID will contribute $10.8 million to match private investments with grants for up to 100 small and medium-sized enterprises, with a particular focus on those run by women and people from marginalized communities, and in key sectors like ICT and the green economy, so they can grow and improve their businesses. 

Second, we are supporting green, sustainable, independent energy systems. USAID has supported renewable energy transformation across Central Asia for more than a decade, with some exciting results. In Kazakhstan, for example, USAID helped launch the region’s first competitive auctions to attract clean energy investors and reduce the cost of green electricity, this was in 2018 – attracting investors from 195 companies wanting to help build Kazakhstan’s renewable energy capacity. That year, the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy in Kazakhstan increased 36 percent.

So we are building on those successes. With an additional investment of $2 million, USAID will mobilize finance to help grow the green economy and invest in more efficient and renewable energy. We will continue to work alongside all five nations to leverage Central Asia’s electricity generation more efficiently across the region and implement new technologies that promote energy efficiency. 

And third, we are combating misinformation. I’m pleased today to announce a new regional program that will help fight disinformation. We’ll equip journalists and media professionals with the tools and techniques they need to identify and publish the most accurate information, while working with partner governments to develop policies that will help deter the circulation of misinformation, and help create a regulatory environment where independent media outlets can flourish.

Supporting a media equipped to take on disinformation is an important democratic reform. But it’s important to note that such democratic reforms – this is critical – are also economic reforms. A company is going to be more likely to invest when its people can have confidence that they won’t be taken down by a disinformation campaign, or when they don’t have to worry that their products might be produced with child labor, or when they know they won’t have to pay expensive bribes to corrupt officials in order to keep doing business. In these ways, building transparent, accountable governments that safeguard the rights of all of their citizens are some of the most important economic reforms that countries can make. 

In my meeting with President Mirziyoyev, I stressed that we are eager to continue supporting efforts to implement this reform agenda. And we have been, and will remain, willing partners to other nations who are interested in adopting similar reforms, which again, we strongly believe, and the empirical records shows, go hand in hand with economic progress and greater prosperity.

All told, I am announcing today a total of $14.3 million in new investments in the region.  And that is in addition to the nearly $19 million in investments I announced yesterday in health, economic growth, local governance, and education here in Uzbekistan specifically. 

At this historic moment, at this inflection point, we are really looking forward to building on our work together – and to supporting the people of Central Asia in turning this new world of hope and possibility into concrete and lasting and sustainable progress.

Thank you, and with that, I’m eager to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Let me open the floor for questions. If you have any questions, please raise your hands.

SHOHRUH MAJIDOV: Good morning Mrs. Power welcome to Uzbekistan. We are so glad to see you here. My name is Shohruh Majidov, from media website Demokratz. My question is, in recent years after various conflicts in the world, especially the war in Ukraine in Gaza, I think that the world has forgotten about Afghanistan. So is Afghanistan a priority for the United States? And also, Central Asia and Afghanistan are continuing discussions about Qosh Tepa Canal. So was this topic discussed at the current – today's meeting? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Well first, let me say that our hearts go out to the people of Afghanistan, especially in light of the earthquakes that the communities in and around Herat have experienced in recent days, multiple earthquakes. More than 1,300 people killed in those earthquakes, still an effort to recover the missing. The United States, and USAID specifically are, in fact, the largest humanitarian donor in the world to Afghanistan. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars last year, in attempting to address, which what was very, very severe food insecurity, with the Taliban’s takeover, what had been a very, very significant economic progress unraveled, and as is always the case in Afghanistan, because it was the Afghan people who paid the price. 

And this year, we are with other donor nations looking at, again, what the food situation is going to be like. Recognizing that, again, a very significant share of the population is likely to be food insecure. So I speak in a very committed manner, to continuing to lead the world in meeting those humanitarian needs. At the same time, of course, not wanting our humanitarian assistance to benefit Taliban officials, who have barred girls from being educated, who have cracked down on a vibrant, flourishing independent media that the United States and the Afghan people invested in over many years, and who have rejected the kind of accountable governance that is going to be critical for Afghanistan's economy in the short, medium, and long term. 

And with regard to the C5+1 Ministerial, let me just say that water, and water shortages, were a major topic of discussion. And it is something that USAID, with its experience of having missions in 80 countries and programs in more than 100 countries that have dealt with varying degrees of water shortages, it is something that we hope to be able to make a major contribution on whether that is as with the Aral Sea preventing further environmental devastation out of water shortages that arise from water shortages. By planting trees, we have planted more than 200,000 trees in the northern Aral Sea zone, is just one example. Whether it is bringing new water technologies to bear, whether it is helping farmers in this region adopt drip irrigation, now that, again, weather patterns are very unpredictable and water shortages are more pronounced. So these are the kinds of issues that we discussed in the meeting. But we were of course aware of concerns about developments in Afghanistan and the effects that those could have on countries that are currently reliant on that canal.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Davlat Umarov.

DAVLAT UMAROV: Davlat Umarov, Gazeta, online media. Ms. Power, my question is related to the state of affairs in the Middle East. So first of all, how do we get from where we are now to peace in Palestine? And also, as we know, the United States is backing Israel's goal to eliminate Hamas once and for all. And in case that goal is achieved, what is the vision USAID? Who should be filling the power vacuum that will be formed in the Gaza strip in the aftermath of the war?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Let me just say that my focus, as USAID Administrator, is on meeting the grave and growing humanitarian needs. We condemn in the strongest terms, as you have heard, the monstrous killings by Hamas. And as you heard President Biden say, including in a trip to the region, the United States supports Israel's right to self defense. At the same time, President Biden has also emphasized the absolutely critical importance of respecting international humanitarian law and ensuring the protection of civilians. And USAID is working with the United Nations, the International Committee for the Red Cross, the Egyptian Red Crescent, and others to get trucks into Gaza. 

That took very extensive negotiations that President Biden was personally involved in with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Sisi of Egypt. Those trucks are moving and need to continue to move. And we hope that the amount of supplies they get into Gaza continues to increase. It is also very important that those with severe injuries and medical needs get the support that they need. So that is my emphasis, as someone in charge of the U.S. government's lead agency for humanitarian response. 

But very much, of course, like President Biden, agree with the premise of your question, which is that you know, what is so important and so overdue, is a lasting peace between Palestinian people and the Israeli people. That feels off course, far away today in light of the events of recent days – Hamas’s vicious terrorist attack, now, the war in Gaza and the severe humanitarian needs. But, you know, fundamentally, it's absolutely critical that the security and the dignity of all peoples across the region are protected. Again President Biden, Secretary Blinken, are very invested in getting the parties back to peace, and working toward that two state solution that has remained elusive for too long.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Egor Maramignon.

EGOR MARAMIGNON: Egor Maramignon, Anhor.Uz. Since 2002, USAID has invested nearly $60 million to support Uzbekistan – support to combat tuberculosis. Is there information on the effectiveness of the use of funds since 2002 under this program. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Thank you so much. And yesterday, I announced additional resources, an additional $3.2 million for TB programs and heard directly from Uzbekistan's President about the importance of these programs to the Uzbek people. In terms of your very important question, which is, what's the data? What are the results? So far, we have managed to double TB testing in Uzbekistan for drug resistant cases. And of course, drug resistant TB is the most severe form of, a deadliest form of, TB. So, doubling that testing capacity gets patients the treatment they need sooner and is itself a life saving result. Your question also underscores the importance, as we grow our presence here in Central Asia and expand our programming in the economic spheres, the climate and clean energy spheres, the agricultural spheres, gender empowerment, support for independent media, that we are constantly asking the question that you have posed, which is what are the results? What is the impact of this programming? And especially with such a burgeoning youth population, it is not enough to announce particular programs or particular investments, but we must constantly be adapting and adjusting our programming on the basis of whether it is working and whether it is delivering for the people of this region. So, we will count again on feedback from the press, from the citizens with whom we work, from civil society, and from government officials as our programming expands.

MODERATOR: Next question, please. Firdavs Zavqiev, Qalampir.

FIRDAVS ZAVQIEV: Hi, good afternoon. Firdavs Zavqiev, Qalampir. I have two questions. First, sometime ago, in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the western countries have learned about the flow of sanctions to Central Asian countries because of their attitudes and policy towards Russia. So, today, the conflict between Palestine and Israel, the USA is supporting Israel, but the Central Asian countries are not – haven’t yet clarified their position. Again, does the United States of America require Uzbekistan to choose one country, either Israel or Palestine?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, again, the United States’ position in the Middle East, yes, is that Israel has the right to defend itself, as any country that suffered an attack of such magnitude, of such devastation would do – not only has a right to do but has an obligation to do. But as the President said, how that fight is prosecuted matters enormously, and the Palestinian people should not pay the price. And Palestinian civilians should not pay the price for Hamas’ savagery. Indeed, the Palestinian people, including those of Gaza, many of whom are human shields, or who are put in harm's way by Hamas terrorists, they themselves are in many instances the victims of Hamas’ brutality. So, that's just to be clear about the U.S. position, which is a position that also has been backed up over decades in relentless diplomatic efforts to try to bring about a two state solution. And so a solution, again, that would bring about dignity and security for all peoples of the region. 

In terms of our posture toward other countries I'll just take your first example of Russia and Ukraine, to see a permanent member of the UN Security Council invade its neighbor, pulverize Ukrainian cities, abduct thousands of Ukrainian children and take them away from their parents into the Russian Federation, systematic sexual violence and torture for people who end up in the hands of the Russian invaders and occupiers. In light of what I've just described I don't think it should surprise anybody that the United States would advocate that countries call out that brutality, and that egregious violation – those egregious violations of international law, and urge countries not to side with the Russian Federation, and to whether publicly or privately convey their deep concern and alarm at those kinds of actions.

Every sovereign country will make its own decisions about how it balances, for example, its geography, its history, its values, its self interest, all of us have a self interest in other countries not being able to invade us. And it is for every sovereign country and every sovereign people, of course, to make their own decisions about how to balance that set of principles. But the United States will never hesitate. Not to require, as your question put it, but to advocate for the upholding of the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and international humanitarian law. And that is something that we are doing in the Middle East, and it is something we are doing with regard to Russia's trampling of those principles.

Thank you everybody.

Administrator Power Travels to Central Asia - October 2023


Administrator Samantha Power will travel to Uzbekistan from October 23th - 24th to deepen ties with Central Asian countries and emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and prosperity of the region.

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