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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rice Beats Drum of Democracy

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the United States was taking the high road in pressing for democracy among former Soviet states historically unfamiliar with political liberty.

"Central Asia is a region that has not had a democratic past," Rice said after a meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov. "The important issue is to take these countries where they are and see them make progress."

Earlier Thursday, Rice met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and, at a news conference afterward, said the United States pressed a consistent message of democracy for all, whether the audience was in the Middle East or Central Asia. She denied any suggestion that the main U.S. interests in Central Asia were oil and strategic leverage in the war on terrorism. "We will press for free and fair elections here just as we press for free and fair elections everywhere in the world," she said.

Nazarbayev faces more than a dozen candidates in a presidential election Dec. 4. The run-up to the voting has been tarnished by the detention of opposition figures, break-ins at political offices and other heavy-handed government interference, according to Human Rights Watch and similar private organizations.

For his part, Nazarbayev defended the election and what he called a general trend toward more political openness in his country. "It is up to you if I meet your definition of dictator," he told a U.S. reporter. "We have political parties, we have opposition that criticizes the authorities. You can get opposition newspapers anywhere you want."

Addressing students, faculty and others at Kazakhstan's Eurasian National University, Rice gave understated encouragement for general democratic reform and free elections but stayed away from any direct reference to recent heavy-handed government interference.

One opposition campaign worker in the audience said Rice could have done more to encourage truly democratic politics. "I am disappointed a little because there was no concrete thing," said Bulat Abilov, campaign manager for The Right Path opposition group.