The United States on Thursday asked Uzbekistan to join the multinational coalition it leads against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying Central Asia's most populous state was free to choose how to the fight against the armed group.
"We have asked Uzbekistan ... to join the coalition," Daniel Rosenblum, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, said during a visit to the Uzbek capital.
Uzbekistan, a majority Muslim nation with a population of 31 million, has been a strategic NATO partner in post-Soviet Central Asia, assisting a U.S.-led war on the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
The U.S.-led coalition hitting ISIL force has a military component, apart from efforts to stop a flow of financing to ISIL, Rosenblum said.
The coalition also gathers information about the movement of people across borders and has five or six other "lines of efforts," Rosenblum said.
"Uzbekistan or any other country can choose to contribute to one or more of those elements," he said.
Uzbek officials could not be reached for comment.
Uzbekistan, a gold and cotton producer whose 78-year-old strongman president, Islam Karimov, has been in power since Soviet days, has been criticized by Western governments and human rights bodies for clampdowns on dissent and basic freedoms.
The authorities have cited a need to prevent any advent of armed groups in the volatile region for their tough methods.
While noting the need for "closer ties and better sharing information between our security establishments," Rosenblum lauded Uzbekistan for progress in eliminating child labor in cotton fields, for which Uzbekistan had also been strongly criticized.
He said, however, that more needs to be done in eliminating involuntary adult labor in cotton production.
Before joining the State Department, Rosenblum was an American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) spokesman on labor rights in the former Soviet Union’s transition to a market economy.
Al Jazeera and Reuters