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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Tashkent (Uzbekistan)

04 April 2010

Toast at official dinner in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Your Excellency President Islam Karimov, Madam Karimova, The Honorable Chairman of the Senate, Speaker of the Parliament, Excellency Prime Minister Mirziyoev, Excellencies, Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Assalom u aleikum.

I would like to thank President Karimov, and the people of Uzbekistan, for their warm welcome and generous hospitality.

My delegation and I deeply appreciate all that you have done to make our visit to your beautiful country such a great success.

I am coming at the start of the New Year.

I would like you to know that, this year, the United Nations celebrated Nowruz for the first time.

So … although I am a little bit late ... I would like to offer you my best wishes for the new year. Happy Nowruz to you all!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have only been here just for a few hours.

But already I have seen and heard much.

Just before arriving in Tashkent, earlier this afternoon, I flew over the Aral Sea by helicopter together with the Prime Minister.

I was shocked.

It was unbelievable to stand on the shore of a vanished sea – to look out at a cemetery of ships, marooned in the sand.

In the distance I saw a herd of camels. Not long ago, people might have been fishing there.

A woman who grew up there told me of her early life – going swimming, playing in big waves. She told me, “We were happy at that time.”

Now all that is gone – her old life, people's jobs and livelihoods.

People are getting sick. The land is poisoned. Storms blow dust and salt as far as the North Pole.

This disaster, entirely man-made, is a vivid testament to what happens when we neglect the environment ... when we mismanage our natural resources.

I'd like to tell you Mr President that it reminded me of flying over Lake Chad in Africa in 2008.

It, too, has shrunk to a small fraction of its former size, with disastrous effects on millions of people.

I think this is a collective responsibility, not only for the nations of Central Asia but the whole world.

I was very encouraged by what I learned ... all the measures the government is taking to deal with the effects of the disaster.

I offer the President the full support of the United Nations and its specialized agencies.

From technical expertise to the larger responsibility of helping the nations of the region come together to find solutions to common challenges.

Water and energy figure large among these challenges, but there are many others.

I am going to have a meeting tomorrow with the President.

Just briefly, I'd like to commend Mr President, your leadership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as the Chairman of this important organization -- an important recognition of your commitment to addressing regional and global challenges.

I thank the President for his enormous contribution in Afghanistan.

We also appreciate Uzbekistan's important role in the peace and stability in Central Asia, including the Central Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

With respect to human rights, I'd like to emphasize the importance of a robust civil society in advancing social well-being and economic prosperity.

As a leading nation of the region, I'd like to stress how important it is for Uzbekistan to implement the recommendations set forth by the United Nations during the Universal Periodic Review in 2008.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One thing I have learned with perfect clarity, even in just a few hours.

That's the energy and spirit of the Uzbek people, your great nation's greatest resource.

President Karimov said, if I may quote, “A healthy mother means a healthy child.”

We all want to see Uzbekistan's future generations prosper.

Here in Tashkent, you have just celebrated the city's 2200th anniversary.

You are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So that Uzbekistan may have as a bright a future as it has had an illustrious past, I would like to commit the United Nations to working closely with you.

The Millennium Development Goals are a map to human progress and economic prosperity.

You are advancing ... especially on education and women and children's health.

It is important that Uzbekistan and other nations of the region do their utmost to meet the goals by 2015.

The clock is ticking.

That is why we will hold a Millennium Goals summit meeting in September in New York.

Today, I'd like to invite President Karimov to attend personally. I look forward to his joining us ... to push the pace of human progress.

Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Let us raise a toast.

It is the spring of a new year – Nowruz.

And I'd like to think that it is the spring of a new and ever-deeper relationship between the United Nations and the great nation of Uzbekistan.

Mr. President, may I toast your health as we join together, you and I, to meet the challenges of a fresh and promising new era.

Thank you.