By Jill Dougherty
The Obama administration is temporarily lifting a ban on military assistance to Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation that plays a crucial role in providing an overland supply route for U.S. military cargo into Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the waiver January 18, allowing the United States to provide Uzbekistan so-called "nonlethal" defensive equipment, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
That aid was stopped in 2003 because of U.S. concern over alleged human rights violations in Uzbekistan. The route for U.S. military cargo has become even more important as Pakistan closed its border crossings into Afghanistan because of anger over a 2011 U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani troops.
In her daily briefing with reporters, Nuland said the action is "a short-term, six-month waiver for U.S. national security interests," and not a permanent lifting of restrictions on assistance to the central government of Uzbekistan.
The secretary of state may re-issue the waiver every six months until the waiver option expires September 30, 2013, Nuland said, if Clinton re-certifies to Congress that a waiver remains in the national security interest and continues to be necessary to obtain access to and from Afghanistan.
The waiver must also include an assessment of the progress the government of Uzbekistan has made in meeting certain human rights requirements.
The U.S. relationship with Uzbekistan has been a delicate balancing act, improving recently with the State Department noting some progress in Uzbekistan's human rights record. Clinton visited Uzbekistan in December, 2010, and in October of last year.