The United States said Wednesday it has waived a ban on non-lethal military aid to Uzbekistan because it serves a key US national security role as a transit route for US supplies to Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived the ban on January 18 to allow Uzbekistan to receive night-vision goggles, personal protection equipment and global positioning systems, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"This'll enhance the Uzbeks' ability to counteract transnational terrorism," Nuland told reporters. "It's defensive in nature, and it's also supportive of their ability to secure the routes in and out of Afghanistan."
Under the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act of 2012, she said, Clinton can waive a ban on aid to Uzbekistan if she deems it in the US national security interest and necessary for sending US supplies to Afghanistan.
The ban was imposed over Uzbekistan's alleged human rights abuses.
Part of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) that goes through Russia and other parts of Central Asia, Uzbekistan provides the US military with a rail link to Afghanistan for shipments of fuel and other non-lethal goods.
US officials said last October that the NDN plays an increasingly crucial role as tensions between Washington and Islamabad raise questions about the reliability of the supply line through Pakistan.
Pakistan closed its main trading route to Afghanistan in November, choking a major supply line for the 130,000-strong US-led force, following Nato air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border.
The US secretary of state has the authority to use renewable six-month waivers for non-lethal supplies to Uzbekistan through 2013, Nuland said. Congress was notified of Clinton's waiver on January 20.
Nuland rejected any suggestions that the United States was giving Uzbekistan a free pass on alleged human rights abuses.
During a visit to Uzbekistan in October, Clinton "spoke very frankly to President (Islam) Karimov, to members of his government about our ongoing interest in support for human rights, reforming the system, our concern about individual cases," Nuland said.