This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 23, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think there is a very clear and consistent point-of-view being conveyed by the international community that we want to see a credible and transparent investigation or inquiry into the events in Andizhan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Ten days ago, troops opened fire on demonstrators in a place called Andizhan in eastern Uzbekistan. And the estimates of those killed ranged from 169 — the government's number — to as many as 700. Witnesses say civilians, including women and children, were mowed down. The government denies that, blaming it all on Islamic extremist rebels.
Rough stuff, though, is nothing new to the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov. The problem for the U.S. is that he has been a strategic ally on the war on terror and the U.S. has a military base there.
For more on this, I'm joined by Steven Sestanovich, a specialist on the region who has worked in both the State Department and the White House, and who is now a professor at Columbia University.
Welcome. What happened here as far as we can tell and why?
STEVEN SESTANOVICH, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, you're right. A large number of civilians, although whether they were armed or not is a little in dispute, were mowed down by troops of the Uzbek army. They'd been protesting the jailing of some of their own businessmen alleged to be Islamist fundamentalist. That's also in dispute.
What we're really seeing though is not just a demonstration in a provincial town. We are seeing the signs of the fragility of these regimes in Central Asia, which have been important new partners for the United States over the past couple of years. We have a base not just in Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, but in Kyrgyzstan next door, also bordering Afghanistan. And the military cooperation with those countries has gone way up, despite the fact that Uzbekistan, at least, is clearly a dictatorship.
HUME: What are, sort of, the equities? I mean, they claim it's Islamic fundamentalists causing the trouble. You say that's in dispute. But are there good guys and bad guys here, or is there nobody to root for, or what?
SESTANOVICH: Well, there's Karimov's regime, and then there's almost everybody else. This is a regime with a very small base, which has opponents in all quarters with lots of different motives for opposing the regime. It may be that some of the people in this crowd were, in fact, Islamic fundamentalists. Others were opposing the regime for economic reasons. They were being put out of business by corrupt officials...
HUME: Bad economy?
SESTANOVICH: ... bad economy.
SESTANOVICH: Absolutely. Lots of corruption in the part of bureaucrats who essentially treat the economy as their property, no political freedom. So you have all of these motives coming together. And the result in Andizhan was thousands of people demonstrating and hundreds of people being killed very quickly, very brutally by the regime.
HUME: Now, you hear the State Department saying, "No, they have got to come clean about this." But let's assume whether they come clean or not, I assume that sooner or later the United States will have a picture of what it thought happened. It isn't going to be pretty. So what are the policy options in a place like this, and what...
SESTANOVICH: Well, the first policy option is, of course, calling for an investigation. And in this, there's a lot of, you know, international hand-wringing going on. Kofi Annan has called for an investigation. The E.U. foreign ministers met today, and they're appalled and find it excessive.
HUME: Yes, that's the easiest thing to do, though, is to call for an investigation.
HUME: Well, I mean, obviously, the results are not going to be pretty, so then what?
SESTANOVICH: The U.S. has already been in the business for some time of tightening its relationship and scaling back its relationship with Uzbekistan. It's on the list of countries that don't recognize religious freedom. The State Department tried to cut back some aid last fall. The Defense Department wants to maintain it.
It is probably unavoidable that there is going to be some curtailment of assistance, and, in fact, it's possible that there will be some curtailment of the military relationship. One of the smart things that the U.S. did in developing its partnership with Uzbek's was building that other base in Kyrgyzstan, because they don't — they aren't just dependent now on...
SESTANOVICH: ... on one country.
HUME: So is it...
SESTANOVICH: And that's important.
HUME: From a military point of view, as best you can estimate it, how important is the Uzbek base?
SESTANOVICH: Well, it's a staging area for NATO forces that go into Afghanistan. It's important, but it's not the only game in town. And the Uzbek regime knows that.
What they are going to feel over the next few weeks, doubtless, is a kind of isolation from their Western friends. What's unclear is whether they're going to feel any sense of isolation from the Russians. The Russians have essentially bought the story about the kind of threat that they felt and have endorsed Karimov's policy. So he's not feeling any heat from the Russians and may, in fact, be pushing closer toward Moscow now that he's in trouble.
HUME: Could the operations that are now being conducted through Uzbekistan be done in Kyrgyzstan, and what kind of place is that? Last question, sorry.
SESTANOVICH: Kyrgyzstan's an unstable place, too. They just lost their president who fled the country in face of protests a couple of months back. And there's now essentially political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan. But it's a little more of a pluralist tradition. They're facing elections. You're not going to see that in Uzbekistan for a long time.
HUME: Steven Sestanovich, always good to have you. Thanks for being here.
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