- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The United States has lost confidence in the ability of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, a key ally in the war on terror, to investigate reports of a May 13 massacre of protesters by government forces, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Mr. Karimov’s handling of the investigation, officials said, has frustrated Washington and only an international probe will suffice.

?Our relationship is moving backward,? one official said. ?We are not talking about progress or expanding [ties], but about how to maintain what we have.?

The Bush administration has been careful not to criticize Mr. Karimov too much publicly because of his help for the U.S. military during the war in neighboring Afghanistan, as well as in other operations in the region through a U.S. base in Uzbekistan.

But Mr. Karimov’s refusal to allow international participation in investigating last month’s events in the city of Andijan added to Washington’s dissatisfaction with his failure to establish a multiparty system in his country, as he promised when he visited President Bush at the White House in 2002, officials said.

?The administration has made its view known that it wants the government of Uzbekistan to allow a credible, independent international investigation into the events at Andijan,? White House spokesman Trent Duffy said yesterday.

?The administration is speaking with one voice on that, and both the Defense Department and the State Department have made those views known to the government of Uzbekistan,? he said.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration is reviewing its policy toward the former Soviet republic, noting that millions of dollars in U.S. aid had been withheld.

?We believe that our strategic objectives and our democracy objectives are indivisible,? he said. ?Certainly, people have raised the issue of the [military] base, which has been used to assist with our democracy-building efforts in Afghanistan, and it has been valuable.?

Human rights groups say that government troops killed unarmed demonstrators on May 13, after rebels seized government buildings.

The official death toll, including law enforcement officers, was 173, but the fatalities are believed to be in the hundreds and perhaps more than 1,000.

U.S. officials said that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe had expressed interest in leading an investigation, but they said they are open to suggestions from Uzbekistan.

?If they prefer the United Nations, that’s fine,? one official said.

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