Trump touts military ties in meeting with Uzbek president

By Susan McFarland and Danielle Haynes  |  May 16, 2018 at 4:45 PM
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May 16 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump said he's working to strengthen military ties with Uzbekistan as he welcomed President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Washington on Wednesday to discuss Afghanistan and trade.

It was Mirziyoyev's first visit to the White House since his election in December 2016 after the death of Islam Karimov, the country's authoritarian leader of 27 years.

The two were expected to talk about the war in Afghanistan, which shares a small border with Uzbekistan. That border serves as a key route for U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported that senior Trump administration officials told reporters that Trump also was expected to press Mirziyoyev on human rights and freedom of the press issues, though the topic did not come up during the public portion of the meeting.

Since his election, Mirziyoyev's government has been making some steps to improve on human rights issues in his country. The government in May released journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who was detained by the National Security Service in September on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime.

Human Rights Watch investigator Steve Swerdlow also praised the government earlier this month when no arrests were made when activists laid a wreath at a statue commemorating the massacre of 400 civilians during an anti-government protest.

"For the first time, they weren't arrested," he said, according to Voice of America. "This was a significant event from our perspective."

Mirziyoyev, 60, is considered to be a reformist -- he's released 28 political prisoners, as well as all but two people on a list of 34 detainees listed by the Human Rights Watch.

"There is tremendous landmark change occurring in Uzbekistan, on human rights, good governance and the rule of law," Javlon Vakhabov, Uzbekistan's ambassador to Washington, said.

During a pool spray ahead of their meeting, Trump and Mirziyoyev touted business deals agreed upon Tuesday totaling nearly $5 billion.

"We've been working very closely together on different things, including trade. They've actually made investments here. We make investments there," Trump said. "We're working together from the standpoint of the military, including his purchase of equipment and military equipment from the United States."

After the statements, questions from media turned toward the North Korea summit.

North Korea said it is canceling high-level talks with South Korea and threatened to pull out of a summit with the United States over the allies' ongoing military exercises.

When asked several times if the summit is being called off or if it can be salvaged, the president said, "We'll have to see."

"No decision. We haven't been notified at all. We'll have to see," Trump said. "We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is."

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