President Donald Trump is expected to encourage Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to embrace human rights reforms and freedom of the press during their first meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
A senior administration official commended Mirziyoyev, who has been in office since September of 2016, for "tremendous strides on the human rights front" and his moves to reduce censorship and increase press freedoms under the authoritarian government. However, an official added that the issue of "combatting corruption and being able to cooperate together in detecting and rooting out corruption is very much a part of our agenda."
When asked whether Mr. Trump, who recently mused on Twitter aboutcovering his administration, is an appropriate messenger for press freedom, a senior administration official retorted that comparing the situation in Uzbekistan to the U.S. made "no sense."
"I think that the discussion would be missing an important element if U.S. officials did not raise the issue of what's happening, in terms of opening up the media -- both acknowledging some of the positive steps in the right direction that we've seen, but encouraging further such movement," the official told reporters on a conference call.
Despite a recent regime change, Human Rights Watch report published at the end of March outlined a media environment of "censorship and fear of repression by security services as a major factor in how they conduct their work" and continued human rights abuses such as "torture, arbitrary detention and criminal prosecutions for political purposes."
Uzbekistan also remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International, but White House officials framed the purpose of the visit as necessary in order to encourage Uzbekistan's support of the U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
"Uzbekistan has played an important role over the past several years in sustaining our operations in Afghanistan by guaranteeing alternate logistical access," an official said.
"And we do appreciate that, and we expect Uzbekistan to continue to be a reliable partner in that regard. We are appreciative that Uzbekistan is seeking to share more of the burden for peace and stability in Afghanistan."
The country hosted the Tashkent conference following the Kabul Peace conference in March and as a result signed various trade agreements with Afghanistan soon thereafter.
When asked about Uzbekistan's authoritarian track record, a senior official said that the White House was "cautiously optimistic" and "optimistically cautious."
"We believe that it's important to try to work with this government and encourage the kinds of steps that we have seen, and provide that encouragement and influence early so that we can see more momentum with his reform program," the official added.