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Central Asia

Volume 534: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2011

8. What recent steps he has taken to strengthen relations with countries in central Asia; and if he will make a statement. (76300)

Central Asia is increasingly important to British economic and strategic interests. We shall be opening a British embassy in Kyrgyzstan early next year, and we are maintaining high-level bilateral contact with all five republics. The most recent such contact took place during a visit to central Asia by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for International Development.

When I was doing voluntary work in Tajikistan recently, it was noted that despite the good work of our ambassador, there was a very low-key British presence. Will the Minister ask the British Council whether it can raise its profile in that country? The council currently deals with it from Uzbekistan, and relations between the two countries are pretty poor.

I pay tribute to the voluntary work that my hon. Friend did in Tajikistan earlier this year. It is good that the interests of that important part of the world can be highlighted in the House of Commons. I will happily pass on what my hon. Friend has said to the head of the British Council.

Until fairly recently central Asia was awash with nuclear weapons, but following the declaration by Kazakhstan and a number of other nations, a nuclear-weapon-free zone has been established there. Does the Minister welcome its establishment, and will he guarantee that NATO will comply with the zone and not overfly it with any nuclear weapons or nuclear-armed aircraft so that we show respect for that attempt to introduce peace to what was once a very tense region?

We welcome any moves to reduce the threat from nuclear proliferation worldwide, and we look not only to the central Asian republics but to all signatories to the non-proliferation treaty to live up to their obligations fully.