Administration Puts Pressure on Uzbekistan

Denying any Pentagon foot-dragging, the Bush administration says it is organizing international pressure on Uzbekistan (search) to treat its people more humanely.

American assistance of $11 million is being withheld while the United States insists on an outside probe of the shooting of hundreds of protesters last month.

"We are working actively and we have generated some international statements of support," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday.

While considering other means of diplomatic leverage, he said, "we will talk about the way forward with our partners in the international community."

The aim, he said, is changing the human rights situation in the former Soviet republic and urging greater freedom for the Uzbek people "that will result in a better life and, ultimately, greater stability in Uzbekistan."

At the same time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) told visiting Foreign Minister Rosa Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan (search) she was concerned the Kyrgyz government had turned over four asylum seekers to Uzbekistan.

McCormack said "we're disappointed" that they were returned without review of whether they might be persecuted and without consultation of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

The U.N. agency last Friday accused Kyrgyz authorities of violating the country's international obligations. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, who is chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (search) in Europe, called for a Kyrgyz investigation and said there should be no future deportations.

The United States has a strong interest in maintaining an air base in Uzbekistan at Karshi-Khanabad, which was useful strategically in the war against the Taliban (search) in Afghanistan.

However, White House and State Department officials joined in denying the Pentagon was trying to undercut demands for an international inquiry into the killing of civilians by police and soldiers in Andijan, Uzbekistan, in mid-May.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, "The Defense Department has issued the same request of the government of Uzbekistan as has the State Department and other administration officials, that we want a credible, independent investigation into the Andijan events."

The State Department's McCormack said, "There is one voice and one policy with respect to an inquiry into what happened in Andijan."

"Secretary Rice and Secretary [of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld talk every single day, and I can assure you they are on the same page with respect to this issue," he said.