German Foreign Minister Steinmeier kicks off Central Asia tour in Uzbekistan | News | DW | 30.03.2016
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German Foreign Minister Steinmeier kicks off Central Asia tour in Uzbekistan

Germany's top diplomat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has arrived in Uzbekistan to discuss bilateral ties and counterterrorism strategies. Two more ex-Soviet states, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan, are also on his itinerary.

Steinmeier started his four-day diplomatic tour by meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov (pictured above) in Tashkent on Wednesday.

The German foreign minister is set to meet both state officials and civil society representatives in the Central Asian country, according to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

For decades, Uzbekistan has been ruled by Islam Karimov. Many foreign observers accuse the 78-year-old president of suppressing dissent and infringing on human rights.

After visiting Tashkent and Karimov's native city of Samarkand, Steinmeier is set to move on to Kyrgyzstan and complete his tour in Tajikistan. He is also expected to discuss the fight against jihadist groups in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian countries. All three of the former Soviet states are working to suppress religious fundamentalists.

Big powers 'collide' in Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan maintain relatively close ties to Moscow, with the current crisis in Russia burdening their economies. However, US and other Western countries also have interests in the region.

The German Foreign Ministry tweeted a picture of Steinmeier landing in Tashkent for the "first stage" of his journey.

Ahead of his Wednesday visit, Steinmeier stressed the strategic importance of Central Asia.

"It mostly stays in the background with regard to international attention, but here is where interests of the big regional powers Russia, China and Iran collide," he said. "There are huge economic possibilities and significant risks to stability that we must not dismiss as irrelevant."

Until last year, the German army used a base in the south of Uzbekistan as a hub for missions in neighboring Afghanistan. The US had shut down its Kyrgyzstan base in 2014.

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