President Lee will seek Uzbek base for U.S. forcesIn an unusual move, President Lee Myung-bak will act as an emissary for the United States when he meets with Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov tomorrow.
The United States is seeking to use Navoi International Airport as a supply base for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and “President Lee has said he would bring up the issue of the U.S. military base during his summit meeting with President Karimov,” according to a Blue House source.
Uzbekistan had allowed the U.S. military to set up an air base in 2001, but relations between the two countries have been strained since 2005 after the United States condemned Uzbek troops’ violent crackdown on what the government called an antigovernment demonstration.
After that Karimov, who has been in power since 1991, has been reluctant to open the airport to U.S. troops, citing fear of becoming a target of terrorist strikes. Another U.S. supply base, Pakistan, has paid a high price in lives and property lost to repeated Taliban attacks. In a similar vein, Kyrgyzstan had threatened to close off a U.S. air base there, but has since reversed its stance.
The United States needs a strategic supply base, and has looked to Lee for assistance because of his close ties with Karimov and the bonds formed by Korean Air’s role in modernizing the Navoi airport. Sources said Washington has used a high-level diplomatic channel since early last year to ask Lee to deliver its message.
“During President Lee’s visit to Uzbekistan last May, he was busy discussing pressing issues between our two countries,” a Blue House source said. “The United States had been quiet after Kyrgyzstan reversed the decision to close the U.S. base there. But President Lee maintains he will bring up the issue [of the Navoi base] once he gets a chance to do so.”
Blue House insiders are not optimistic that Lee’s words alone will carry enough weight to resolve the base issue. Nonetheless, they said Lee would do his part by delivering the message of an ally.
Lee first met Karimov while he was mayor of Seoul in 2006, and the Uzbek president attended Lee’s inauguration in 2008. During Lee’s visit to Uzbekistan last year, Karimov was a constant shadow by his side, prompting journalists from both countries to quip that Lee was being stalked.
Karimov is scheduled to arrive in Seoul today and hold the summit with Lee tomorrow. Karimov’s three-day visit, which includes meetings with Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho and Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun, is his sixth trip to Korea.
By Seo Seung-wook [firstname.lastname@example.org]
More in Politics
Lawmaker forfeits PPP membership amid corruption allegations
Moon's UN speech falls flat
Moon proposes formally ending Korean War in keynote UN speech
Prosecutors raid homes of Choo's son and others implicated in scandal
Moon talks up Korea's Covid response in UN address