Eurasianet reported on May 28 that the United States is currently experimenting with three-way dialogue with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan.  Washington reportedly may pursue a similar format with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

According to Eurasianet, the inaugural meeting, which took place on May 27 via a teleconference call between the foreign ministers of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, along with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, focused on a familiar laundry list of topics, including security, economic and trade ties, and infrastructure projects of mutual interest.

“We believe this format is an opportunity to address our countries’ shared interest in partnership, peace, security and prosperity in Central Asia and Afghanistan,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Jonathan Henick told reporters on May 28.

In keeping with custom, security was given the priority.

A pledge to develop “security cooperation and [intensify] joint efforts to combat cross-border threats along the frontier between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and to address issues such as terrorism, drug and precursor trafficking, smuggling, illegal migration, human trafficking, and wildlife trafficking throughout the region” was given first billing in a list of joint commitments.

Developing better rail links, improving bureaucratic conditions for trade, support for energy transmission projects, like the still-putative CASA-1000 electricity grid and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, and the fostering of deeper person-to-person ties were reportedly on the agenda too.

“We are experimenting with different platforms with a view toward advancing our shared objectives,” Henick said.  “We remain totally committed to the C5+1 platform.”

The trilateral format, Henick said, arose from the need to tackle “some of the thorny technical issues on the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.”

Increasing rail connectivity is one such area.

Uzbekistan is reportedly eager to see Afghanistan enhance its role as a land bridge to Pakistani seaports on the Indian Ocean through the creation of rail routes from Mazar-I Sharif to Kabul and then onward to Torkham, on the Pakistani border.

There are already increasingly reliable connections to near-border areas just inside Afghanistan, though. Uzbekistan Railways announced only last month that it has launched a high-speed freight train service from Tashkent to the Afghan border town of Khairatan, cutting travel time from five or six days to two.  The company in the same statement noted that additional carriages are hitched to the three times-weekly high-speed trains as they make their way down to the border.

Eurasianet says another area of shared interest is the development of a Free Economic Zone at the border, which would considerably facilitate trade ties.

Henick reportedly said the Uzbek-Afghan-U.S.-style dialogue format may be developed elsewhere in the region.

“There are similar technical issues on the other borders, with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. We are considering this format as a model for discussion with those countries as well,” Henick said.