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Rare Central Asian Summit Signals Regional Thaw


Central Asian leaders convene for the latest regional summit in Astana on March 15.

ASTANA -- Four Central Asian presidents are meeting in Kazakhstan for the first regional summit in almost a decade, a sign of improving ties following the death of divisive Uzbek leader Islam Karimov in 2016.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is hosting Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev, Kyrgyz Presidnet Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the March 15 meeting in Astana.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov stayed away and the most isolated of the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia was represented by Turkmenistan’s parliament chief, Akja Nurberdyeva.

The summit was proposed by Mirziyoev, who has taken steps to improve Uzbekistan's ties with its neighbors since he succeeded Karimov in September 2016.

During the autocratic Karimov's 27-year rule in Central Asia's most populous nation, its relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were strained by disputes over transit routes, border security, water resources, and other issues.

The handful of other Central Asian summits convened since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 produced few results amid sometimes sharp differences among the leaders, including particularly tense relations between Karimov and Nazarbaev.

The most recent summit, in April 2009 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, focused solely on the problems of the shrinking Aral Sea.

Talks at the March 15 meeting were expected to touch on a wide range of issues.

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