U.S. inaction on Uzbekistan threatens claim to moral clarity

The United States will lose its claim to moral clarity if it continues to tolerate the "regime of thuggery and brutality" in Uzbekistan, said a congressman who introduced a resolution Wednesday in the House of Representatives that would urge quick and strong action.

The proposal by Reps. William Delahunt of Massachusetts and Lloyd Doggett of Texas, both Democrats, would urge financial and diplomatic actions against President Islam Karimov and his 16 years of authoritarian rule in the former Soviet republic.

Delahunt said one purpose of the proposed resolution is to get out information to majority Republicans and Democrats alike about "the Karimov regime, which is a regime of thuggery and brutality."

He said the difference between the administration's ineffectiveness in dealing with Karimov "is feeding this distrust of America everywhere in the world" and is creating "a rationale for others to justifiably accuse us of hypocrisy." Terry Davidson, a spokesman at the State Department, had no immediate reaction to the proposed resolution because he had not seen it.

The resolution, which if passed would give the sentiment of the House and lack the authority of law, would put on record the House's disapproval of further payments to Uzbekistan, specifically $23 million (Ђ19 million) for use of an air base the United States has been using for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Payments already total more than $350 million (Ђ290 million).

Karimov has told the Americans they must abandon the base by the end of March because of U.S. demands for an international investigation of the Uzbek security forces' shooting of hundreds of demonstrators in May in the eastern Uzbekistan city Andijan. Karimov's government says 187 people died, but human rights advocates say the toll topped 700. Troops opened fire after protesters had seized a prison and government headquarters and thousands were demonstrating outside for Karimov's removal.

The chief State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, was asked in his regular briefing about Uzbekistan but not the resolution. He said Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who just met with Karimov in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, reaffirmed the U.S. demand for an international investigation.

McCormack also said the United States already is withholding more than $20 million (Ђ16.6 million) in potential aid because Karimov has done nothing to implement democratic policies that he promised in the agreement that gave U.S. forces access to the base. The U.S. government considers the $23 million (Ђ19 million) payment for services rendered in rent and other costs at the installation. The Delahunt-Doggett resolution also would urge President George W. Bush to "use the voice, vote and influence of the United States" to get the U.N. Security Council to refer Karimov and the May 13 shooting to the International Criminal Court.

Delahunt said he is unsure whether House leaders, members of Bush's Republican party, would even bring the resolution up for a vote. An amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill to cut off money from Karimov went nowhere, AP reports.

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