Due to the exigencies of supplying troops in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has been seeking a waiver to remove seven years of human rights restrictions barring military aid to the Uzbek dictatorship.
Yet despite these concerns, word comes today from a Senate source saying that Congress has indeed authorized the waiver, to the chagrin of many human rights activists.
[CLARIFICATION: The waiver has passed only in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but this is now unlikely to be changed when the bill comes for a vote to the full Senate.]
The groundwork was being laid long before; this summer, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, visited Uzbekistan to discuss the waiver, among other aspects of improving Uzbek-US relations.
A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev was anticipated this week, as the Uzbek delegation arrived in New York for the UN General Assembly. Yet the meeting didn't take place, possibly due to Uzbekistan's unhappiness about being named once again in the annual report on international religious freedom as a "country of particular concern" for its appalling torture and imprisonment of devout Muslims and other religious believers.
Now the US move for rapprochement with Uzbekistan -- despite its failure to improve its human rights record -- is getting some more attention. Salon has the story:
Prompted by the the current crisis in U.S.-Pakistani relations, the Obama administration has reportedly shifted supply lines to rely even more on the Central Asian corridor. And in an effort to improve relations with Uzbekistan, it is now asking Congress to OK military aid to that country, over the furious objections of human rights groups. Several groups signed a strongly worded letter to senators this week, asking that they turn down the administration's requests for aid.
“The country lost a lot of talented and well-educated people over the years,” Mr. Stroehlein said. “It’s really [jumping] from one state of misery to a worse state of misery with a couple of massacres in between. It’s really depressing.”
UPDATE: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the new appropriations language for the waiver on September 21.
Sec. 7064. The terms and conditions of sections 7075(a) through (d) and 7076(a) through (e) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2009 (division H of Public Law 111-8 shall apply to funds appropriated by this Act, except that the Secretary of State may waive the application of section 7076(a) for a period of not more than 6 months and every 6 months thereafter until September 30, 2013, if the Secretary certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that the waiver is in the national security interest and necessary to obtain access to and from Afghanistan for the United States, and the waiver includes an assessment of progress, if any, by the Government of Uzbekistan in meeting the requirements in section 7076(a):
Provided, That the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 180 days after enactment of this Act and 12 months thereafter, on all United States Government assistance provided to the Government of Uzbekistan and expenditures made in support of the Northern Distribution Network in Uzbekistan, including any credible information that such assistance or expenditures are being diverted for corrupt purposes: Provided further, That information provided in the report required by the previous proviso may be provided in a classified annex and such annex shall indicate the basis for such classification: Provided further, That for the purposes of the application of section 7075(c) to this Act, the report shall be submitted not later than October 1, 2012 and for the purposes of the application of section 7076(e) to this Act, the term “assistance” shall not include expanded international military education and training.
Barring any extraordinary circumstances, this is the language that is most likely to appear in any final appropriations that will be passed later this year. That is, for anything about this waiver for Uzbekistan to change, some member of Congress would have to hold up the entire legislative act for all foreign operations, which would be highly unlikely.