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UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
U.S., Uzbekistan Sign Threat Reduction Agreement
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Philipp C. Bleek

The United States signed an agreement June 5 with Uzbekistan that, according to Bush administration officials, will provide a “legal framework” for a range of cooperative threat reduction and military activities.

Signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in Washington, the accord is intended to facilitate three specific projects, according to the officials. Most notably, it will allow work on eliminating a biological weapons complex located on Vozrozhdeniye (“Renaissance”) Island in the Aral Sea.

The island contains an extensive, well-documented Soviet-era complex, which one official estimated contains “more than 80 buildings.” U.S. officials plan to eliminate the complex’s facilities and to destroy residual stocks of biological weapons, including anthrax, currently stored there.

The project has some urgency because diversion of water for agricultural purposes has drastically lowered the Aral Sea’s water level. Some experts warn that land bridges could soon form between the island and the mainland, providing a conduit for animals to carry anthrax spores or other biological agents from the island.

The agreement will also facilitate work already underway under a pre-existing accord to dismantle a chemical weapons research facility located at Nukus. Furthermore, the agreement will permit Uzbek participation in a Defense Department biological material protection and control program that aims to enhance the security of pathogen collections at research facilities.

In addition, the accord provides a legal umbrella for possible future threat reduction cooperation, such as work between the Energy Department and the Uzbek government on enhanced safeguards for the country’s nuclear research reactor. This umbrella will also extend to defense and military contacts, such as joint military exercises.

According to the official, the agreement entered into force upon signing, superceding an existing “ministry-to-ministry agreement” between the two countries’ defense departments. It will expire in seven years. The official emphasized that more narrowly targeted implementing agreements must still be negotiated for each project, although the Nukus activities can proceed under an existing implementing agreement.