efe-epaWashington

President Donald Trump on Wednesday received his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, intending to ask for the latter's support for US operations in Afghanistan and to pressure him to improve the human rights situation in the Central Asian country, the White House said.

Mirziyoyev is the first Uzbek leader to visit the White House since Islam Karimov, who governed the country for 27 years, met with then-President George W. Bush in 2002 to strengthen their joint cooperation against terrorism.

"It's a great honor to have the president of Uzbekistan with us. He's a highly respected man in his country and throughout. We've been working very closely together on different things, including trade," Trump said.

The US leader emphasized the two nations' military cooperation, including "his purchase of equipment and military equipment from the United States."

Trump did not mention in the presence of reporters either the conflict in Afghanistan, which borders on Uzbekistan, or the human rights situation in Mirziyoyev's homeland, but White House officials told The New York Times that the president would raise those two issues behind closed doors.

The US wants Uzbekistan to support its operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and to improve its relations with the Afghan government and cooperation against terrorism with Washington and Kabul, according to the New York daily.

The paper reported that Trump also planned to urge Mirziyoyev to improve the situation of human rights and freedom of the press in his country, a Muslim state where the authorities rigidly control and attempt to head off any move toward radicalization.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday emphasized in a statement that since Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016, he has ordered the release of at least 28 political prisoners and relaxed certain restrictions on freedom of expression, but he should translate those modest advances into "structural" realities.

Mirziyoyev said that his nation had signed contracts and agreements with US firms valued at $5 billion and spoke about a "new era for strategic partnership" with Washington.