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MOSCOW, October 30. /TASS/. Having lost the initiative in the fight against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in the Middle East, Washington is becoming more active in Central Asia, the crossroads of Russian and Chinese interests, experts told TASS on Friday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan from October 30 to November 3. "This will be Secretary Kerry’s first visit to Central Asia and the first-ever visit by a US Secretary of State to all five Central Asian republics on the same trip," the US State Department said in a travel statement.
Kerry will attend a joint meeting in Uzbekistan with the foreign ministers of all five countries, a new format for dialogue between the United States and the Central Asian republics known as the "C5+1," the State Department said.
He will also participate in the opening of the new campus of the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, attend a meeting of the US-Kazakhstan Strategic Partnership Dialogue in Astana, and discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, the department said.
Major General Pavel Zolotarev, deputy head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of US and Canada, told TASS that Washington was concerned with the infiltration of Islamic State terrorists in Afghanistan where the US-led operation "Enduring Freedom" aiming to build a safe and stable state has been unsuccessfully conducted for years.
"Last week, US President Barack Obama announced the decision to halt the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan and to leave the current force of 9,800 troops throughout 2016," Zolotarev said. "Therefore, Washington is seriously concerned with not the Middle East militants but Central Asian nationals joining the IS given that Kyrgyzstan has denied the US its military presence at the Manas airbase."
"The US secretary of state will most likely hold talks on strengthening American military positions during his tour," he added.
"Having lost the initiative in the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East, which the Americans consider a zone of their interests, the US may be striving for strengthening its influence in Russia’s ‘soft belly’, Central Asia, which Moscow also considers a zone of its priority interests. This involves not only security but also trade and economic interests of major players," Zolotarev said.
All the world powers, Russia, China and the US, have their interests in Central Asia, a region of strategic importance with major transport corridors.
"Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Eurasian Economic Union. The possibility of connecting the EAEU with the new Chinese Silk Way project is currently being considered," the expert said. "The US interest in the region is linked with the implementation of the new agreement on trans-Pacific cooperation where China was not invited as a big economic rival. Therefore, Central Asia is destined to become an arena of rivalry between regional powers and the US."
Meanwhile, Alexei Podberezkin, head of the Military-Political Research Centre of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that Central Asia was a priority region in US foreign policy.
"Washington has not declared this priority for a while, being stuck in military campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan," he told TASS. "Given Moscow’s growing influence in the Middle East, the US is now intending to strengthen its positions in Central Asia and destabilise the situation there to hit Russia’s interests."
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