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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008, 11:19 GMT
US 'not returning to Uzbek base'
By Natalia Antelava
BBC Central Asia correspondent

US troops at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan - file photo from 27 April 2004
Uzbekistan ordered US forces out of the country in 2005
A senior western diplomat in Uzbekistan has told the BBC that the United States is not trying to re-open a military base in the country.

The diplomat said that a return by the armed forces to the Central Asian state was not on the agenda.

The US withdrew from Uzbekistan following a dispute over human rights in 2005.

But recent media reports had suggested that Washington was negotiating a possible return.

Warming ties?

The diplomat categorically denied reports that the US was in negotiations to open a new airbase in Uzbekistan.

The reports were triggered by an agreement between Washington and Tashkent which will give the Americans limited access to the German airbase in Termez near the border with Afghanistan.

Under the arrangement, a handful of mainly civilian advisers to Nato generals will be granted permission, on a case by case basis, to fly to Afghanistan via the Termez airbase.

It is a very small gesture which will have little impact on the Nato campaign in Afghanistan.

But it does show that the relationship between Uzbekistan and the West is beginning to change.

Tashkent cut nearly all ties with the West after the European Union imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan in response to the events in Andijan, where government troops killed hundreds of civilian protestors in 2005.

The US was forced to shut its airbase, and hundreds of Western organisations and companies left Uzbekistan.

Three years on, observers say that Uzbekistan's human rights record has deteriorated even further, but the West has clearly had a change of heart.

There is now a strong lobby within the EU which wants to lift the sanctions.

While most people in the West resent the idea of a dialogue with President Karimov, increasingly many policy-makers say that alienating Uzbekistan has only pushed this strategic, energy-rich country closer to China and Russia.

They also argue that engagement is the only thing that could ease the dire human rights situation.

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