The United States was one of the first countries to recognize Tajikistan as an independent country on December 25, 1991. Since then, through six different ambassadors, the U.S. has developed a strong, multi-dimensional relationship that has evolved with Tajikistan's history as an independent nation.
In March 1992 we set up our first embassy in the Avesto Hotel, but in October 1992 we had to suspend operations at the onset of the civil war. By March of 1993 the United States' first Ambassador to Tajikistan, Stanley Escudero, presented his credentials to then-Chairman of the Supreme Council Emomali Rahmonov.
In the first ten years of relations, the war and the subsequent tasks of helping Tajikistan rebuild dominated our agenda. Ambassador Grant Smith worked closely with the UN to reconcile the warring sides, bring an end to the war, and bolster the UN-brokered settlement of 1997. One of the most pressing needs at that time was to bring humanitarian assistance to people whose lives had been shattered by the war.
After the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998, Ambassador Robert Finn arrived after the relocation of American personnel from Dushanbe to Almaty, Kazakhstan, in response to new State Department security standards for embassies worldwide. While the new chancery was being built, the embassy operated out of the ambassador's residence on Pavlov Street, and about a dozen American staff split their time between Almaty and Dushanbe.
At the turn of the millennium as Tajikistan was securing a lasting peace, we focused on diminishing arms and drug smuggling and illegal border crossings by criminal elements and extremists that undermined stability. Concurrently, we cooperated on mechanisms to sustain modest but achievable economic growth to reduce social and political tension and improve the standard of living for everyone.
When the U.S. military launched the offensive in Afghanistan against the Taliban in October 2001, Tajikistan granted our military overflight rights, which contributed to the defeat of the Taliban and improved relations between Tajikistan and its southern neighbor. To anchor the area with cross-border trade, in early 2002 Ambassador Franklin Huddle got a commitment from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to construct a bridge at Nizhniy Pyanj, which ultimately opened in August 2007. Trade between the two countries tripled in the first year of the bridge operations.
After the Russian border forces withdrew from the Tajik-Afghan border in 2005, Ambassador Hoagland led our mission in supporting international efforts to enhance Tajikistan's borders and thus prevent the transit of narcotics, weapons of mass destruction, and criminal groups and terrorists. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with President Rahmon in Dushanbe in October 2005, and the two sides announced a shift in the focus of cooperation from humanitarian assistance to Tajikistan’s economic development.
As a testament to the strategic importance of Tajikistan to the overall prosperity and stability of Central and South Asia, our mission continues to grow. We now employ over 300 American and local employees. When the new chancery opened in June 2006, President Rahmon attended to personally congratulate Charge d'Affaires Tom Armbruster.
As Tajikistan has matured, so has our bilateral relationship. Over the past 17 years the United States has invested over $900 million in Tajikistan and our trade volume has grown from $10 million in the early 1990s to almost $270 million annually. Under the current leadership of Ambassador Ken Gross, the mission's efforts are still focused on security cooperation, and also on broader democratic and economic reforms that will help integrate Tajikistan into the global community and ensure lasting stability.
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