Hillary Clinton will lead U.S. delegation to OSCE summit

November 18. Central Asia Newswire

By Hal Foster

Hillary Clinton will lead U.S. delegation to OSCE summitU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the American delegation to the Astana summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on December 1 and 2, the U.S. State Department disclosed yesterday.

The revelation answered a question that the host nation, Kazakhstan, and many of the heads of state taking part in the summit had wanted to know: Would President Barack Obama attend?

Barring a change of American thinking, the answer appears to be no.

More than 40 of the 56 nations in the OSCE will send heads of state to the event.

Those leaders will include Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, the first head of a major power to commit, plus German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A still-unanswered question is whether Prime Minister David Cameron will lead the British delegation.

In addition to heads of state, visiting leaders will include heads of international organizations. Two of the most prominent will be United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the European Union, Jose Manuel Barroso, whose actual title is European Commission president.

While Kazakh officials had hoped that Obama would be the first U.S. president to visit Central Asia, Clinton has star power, too. The wife of former President Bill Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York and challenged Obama for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008.

It will be her second visit to Kazakhstan. She made an official visit as First Lady in 1996.

Kazakh officials said the constructive engagement they expect from the secretary of state will help make the summit a success.

Clinton is well-versed on two issues that will take center stage at the OSCE summit: Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.

In fact, she has discussed both subjects this year with the OSCE’s Chairman in office, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev.

Obama’s choice of Clinton to head the American delegation surfaced in the text of remarks that Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake prepared for delivery before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Wednesday.

“We hope that this event will shine a light on positive developments in Central Asia, and the role that the OSCE has played – and can play in the future – in promoting its principles throughout the OSCE region,” he said. Blake is assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs.

Kazahkstan became the first former Soviet country to chair the OSCE on January 1.

Blake said it had done “a very credible job,” especially in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which has erupted in violence twice this year.

The first was in April, when oppositionists ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev. The second was in June, when ethnic Kyrgyzs and ethnic Uzbeks fought in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Both times the international community feared civil war in the country.

Under Kazakhstan’s leadership, the OSCE “has been at the forefront of efforts to promote peace, democracy and reconciliation” in Kyrgyzstan, Blake said.

Clinton discussed the Kyrgyzstan situation with Saudabayev in a telephone call when the clashes broke out in June.

The two “expressed deep concern at the further escalation of violence, which has caused numerous human casualties,” Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said afterward.

“The parties agreed on the need to consolidate efforts of the OSCE and UN in providing aid to Kyrgyzstan to resolve the grave crisis,” the ministry said.

Kazakhstan donated cash, food, fuel and building materials to its neighbor, helped organize broad international relief efforts and supported the post-Bakiev regime’s plan to hold an election last month.

Clinton and Saudabayev discussed the Kyrgyzstan situation again on the sidelines of an international conference on Afghanistan in Kabul in July. The gathering had attracted 40 foreign ministers and other top international officials.

“Kazakhstan’s leadership in Kyrgyzstan has been essential,” Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry spokesman Roman Vassilenko quoted Clinton as telling Saudabayev.

Clinton and Saudabayev also discussed the Afghanistan situation one-on-one in Kabul, of course.

Their first discussions of the worn-torn country came when Saudabayev was visiting Washington on February 4.

When the two met again in Kabul, Clinton expressed American appreciation for President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s signing of an agreement July 8 allowing U.S. armored personnel carriers to cross Kazakhstan by train, Vassilenko said.

In October 2001, just a month after the September 11th attacks, Kazakhstan became one of the first countries near Afghanistan to allow U.S. planes involved in the war effort to fly through its airspace.

Last week Kazakhstan and the United States signed a new overflight agreement that allows American planes to use more direct polar routes to fly cargo and troops to Afghanistan.

The old route from the United States to Germany to Afghanistan took a lot more time and cost American forces tens of millions of dollars more in fuel, U.S. officials have said.