Reuters International

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbekistan wants to maintain a stable relationship with the United States as it goes through its first leadership change since independence, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday after meeting the Uzbek foreign minister in Tashkent.

Moscow, Washington and Beijing are all vying for influence in the ex-Soviet Central Asia region which sits on vast mineral reserves and is strategically located north of Afghanistan, on the ancient Silk Road trade route between China and Europe.

Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State, met Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov late on Monday.

It was the first visit by a U.S. diplomat since the death of veteran president Islam Karimov last week. Karimov, 78, died on Friday after suffering a stroke and left behind a power vacuum in Central Asia's most populous nation.

"I am here in Tashkent these few days representing the U.S. government so that I can express condolences on the death of President Karimov and also to show our continued commitment to our partnership with Uzbekistan," Rosenblum told reporters.

"We know very well that the change of leadership is always difficult for any country. We also know that these transitions provide opportunity to define ways to adapt and also to grow stronger.”

Rosenblum did not mention meeting any of the most senior officials who are viewed as potential successors to Karimov, such as Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev or his deputy, Rustam Azimov.

“During my meeting with Komilov he expressed strong desire for stability in the bilateral relationship so I took it as an important message as well,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he would also visit Uzbekistan on Tuesday to honour Karimov.

(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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