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Kyrgyzstan says alliance not aimed at U.S.

- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

An expanding alliance of Russia, China and four Central Asian states should not be seen as an anti-American plot designed to slash Washington's influence in the region, Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Washington said in an interview yesterday.

Zamira Sydykova, whose country hosted Thursday's summit of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the capital, Bishkek, said Kyrgyzstan is seeking economic and joint security benefits from the SCO, not ways to contain U.S. influence.

"Our interests in the SCO are practical ones, not strategic ones," she said. "We certainly did not see our role as hosting an anti-American gathering."

Mrs. Sydykova noted that this week's SCO summit did not even raise the question of the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, a key supply site for the U.S.-led military effort in Afghanistan. Pressed by Moscow and Beijing, a 2005 SCO summit demanded a timeline for the removal of all foreign bases — including Manas — from the region, taking U.S. officials by surprise.

But Kyrgyz officials made clear in the weeks before this week's summit that they did not want the Manas base to be on the agenda. The final communique focused much more heavily on energy cooperation and countering terrorist threats in the region.

Leaders from SCO members Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan attended the summit. Also attending were top officials from Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran, which have "observer" status at the SCO.

U.S. efforts in the past to obtain at least observer status in the SCO have been turned aside. There was speculation that Iran would press for full membership at the Bishkek summit, but Russian officials said it was too early to consider expanding the group.

But the Bishkek meeting did have its moments of concern for Washington.

Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took veiled swipes at the United States in their remarks at the summit. Mr. Ahmadinejad criticized the U.S. missile defense system planned for Eastern Europe, while Mr. Putin said "any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally are hopeless."

The summit communique also suggested that Central Asia's security problems were best addressed "by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing associations."

The summit was followed by a major counterterrorism exercise in Russia's Ural Mountains involving some 6,000 troops from the six SCO countries, the largest such exercise of its kind.

While saying Kyrgyzstan wants to preserve good relations with Washington, Mrs. Sydykova expressed disappointment with the low level of U.S. private investment in her country to date and the lack of contracts for Kyrgyz companies to participate in the economic reconstruction in Afghanistan.

She said she hoped a recent law privatizing parts of Kyrgyzstan's energy sector would lead to greater interest from U.S. firms.