BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's top diplomat says his country's possible addition to the U.S. travel ban list might be linked to the Central Asian nation's delay in fully switching to a biometric passport system.

Foreign Minister Chyngyz Aidarbekov told reporters in Bishkek on January 23 that he held talks with U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Donald Lu regarding recent media reports in the United States and that the White House is considering adding Kyrgyzstan and five other countries to its travel ban list.

According to Aidarbekov, Ambassador Lu did not confirm that the U.S. will introduce restrictions on issuing visas to Kyrgyz nationals.

"According to the information we obtained, the proposal [to add Kyrgyzstan to the travel ban list] was made by U.S. law enforcement. In 2017, the U.S. president signed a law, according to which, citizens of the countries that do not issue biometric passports will not be allowed to enter the United States. Kyrgyzstan is one of the countries...that do not provide their citizens with biometric passports," Aidarbekov said.

The minister also expressed hope that, when making its final decision, the United States will take into account that Kyrgyzstan has been unable to fully switch to biometric passport system due to "objective reasons."

The issuance of biometric passports in the Central Asian country was delayed last year after the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (UKMK) cancelled the results of a tender on printing blank biometric passports for Kyrgyzstan.

In February 2019, Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Service (MKK) announced that a Lithuanian company, Garsu Pasaulis, had won the tender.

But in April, the UKMK annulled the tender's results and launched an investigation into alleged irregularities that bolstered the Lithuanian firm's bid.

The current U.S. travel ban, signed by President Donald Trump in 2018, closed the country's borders to citizens from seven countries, most with Muslim majorities.

Under the ban, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela are affected.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of RadioFree Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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