Atlantic Council Conference Focuses on Kazakhstan’s Prominent Role in the Region and Beyond

Feb 17.  The Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Atlantic Council Conference Focuses on Kazakhstan's Prominent Role in the Region and BeyondOn the sidelines of Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov’s recent visit to the United States, the Atlantic Council hosted a conference entitled “Twenty Years of Kazakhstan Independence and U.S.-Kazakhstan Relations” at the RitzCarlton Hotel in Washington. Senior representatives of the U.S. government, business leaders and foreign policy experts attended.

The Jan. 31 event took place in the context of two 20th anniversaries -Kazakhstan’s independence and the establishment of U.S.-Kazakhstan relations. Over the last 20 years, Kazakhstan consolidated its independence, got rid of nuclear weapons inherited from the former Soviet Union, fostered oil and gas development and avoided the kinds of sharp inter-ethnic and other strife that took place elsewhere in the region.

The Atlantic Council event looked at Kazakhstan’s achievements over the last 20 years and its future goals and challenges, as well as the state of the Kazakhstan-U.S. partnership. There were three panels: “Looking Back: Kazakhstan’s First Twenty Years,” “Looking Forward: Where Should Kazakhstan Be by 2031 and How Will It Get There,” and “U.S.-Kazakhstan Relations.” Keynote speeches were delivered by Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kazykhanov, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman.

In his opening remarks to the conference, former Sen. and Chairman of the Atlantic Council Chuck Hagel made the point that the collapse of the Soviet Union not only  amounted to freedom and hope but also challenges for former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan: no institutions, no governing institutions; there were ethnic, cultural questions and issues; tremendous poverty; hunger. Today, Kazakhstan has overcome these obstacles and become an example in the region. Hagel praised the Kazakh people for making their nation strong.

In his keynote address, Foreign Minister Kazykhanov unveiled the secret of Kazakhstan’s 20 years of success: peaceful, predictable, consistent, independent and responsible foreign policy; political and economic reforms with the goal of liberalizing and integrating the country into the world community, a growing democracy, rule of law, human rights and remarkable economic growth. Today, Kazakhstan has 3 percent of the world’s raw materials; its GDP has grown from $11 billion in 1993 to $145 billion in 2010; the GDP per capita of $11,000. A stable economy has attracted 80 percent of all capital inflows into the Central Asian economies. “The highly developed banking system, stable institutions and friendly government policy further encourage foreign investments,” the Foreign Minister said.

Since its independence, Kazakhstan has been promoting regional economic integration. Kazakhstan is interested in stable development in Afghanistan including stopping the spread of drugs, extremism and terrorism. The country spent $50 million to educate young Afghans in Kazakhstan and have been providing humanitarian assistance including fuel and wheat to the country. Its partnership is growing with the European Union, it enjoys multidimensional cooperation with European countries, economic integration with Russia and Belarus, and is continuing efforts to join the.

Kazakhstan is trying to link western China with western Europe through system of roads called “the China-Western Europe Motorway.” Kazakhstan helped create the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures as the reflection of the OSCE in Asia. Kazakhstan has built solid relationships with various organizations including CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and the European Union. At the moment, Kazakhstan is chairing the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the second-largest international organization after the United Nations, with a goal of improving understanding between Muslims and Western world.

“Kazakhstan is actively supporting a number of American initiatives. For example, we endorse the New Silk Road Project for the creation of a regional network of economic and transit connections connecting South and Central Asia with Afghanistan,” Kazykhanov stated. “With this aim, we played an active part in the international conference on Afghanistan that took place in Istanbul in November last year and also in Bonn in December last year and we convened a special contact group meeting in Kazakhstan on the 15th of November last year in Astana.”

“Another important topic for our common cooperation is the strengthening of the regional cooperation in Central Asia. We believe that the framework agreement on trade and investment between the United States and the countries of Central Asia, known as TIFA, can become of the basic instruments for stimulating the integration process in the region,” Kazykhanov added. “Over the past two decades, a strong strategic partnership has been established between Kazakhstan and the United States,” the Minister continued.

This partnership is wide, deep and based on bilateral agreements and friendship. Afghanistan, non-proliferation, economic cooperation, regional and energy security as well as Central Asia integration and the New Silk Road Initiative have become key topics for further promoting of strategic dialogue between Kazakhstan and the United States.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake hailed “Kazakhstan’s welcome efforts to position itself as a leader in the international community.”

“Kazakhstan has assumed a much more prominent role on the world stage as the 2010 Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Chair in 2011 of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Blake said in his remarks.

According to Blake, “the United States and Kazakhstan have enjoyed 20 years of dynamic and growing partnership. We have worked closely and cooperatively together, starting on Dec. 25, 1991 when then-Secretary of State James Baker visited Almaty to meet with President Nazarbayev and establish diplomatic relations between our countries. Twenty years later, we have accomplished much, but see great scope to do more.”

“Many feared in the collapse of the Soviet Union the potential for a new and increasingly dangerous era that could have triggered a wave of nuclear weapons proliferation … Thanks in part to the U.S.-Kazakhstan close cooperation, that did not happen. Key to this outcome was President Nazarbayev’s firm decision to make Kazakhstan the first country to voluntarily relinquish nuclear weapons and protect stockpiles of other dangerous materials,” Blake said. “Today Kazakhstan remains a key player in non-proliferation cooperation … and serves as a model to the world of how a country can gain – not lose – security as a result of ridding itself of nuclear weapons,” he added.

President Nazarbayev’s wise energy policy, investments in education within the “Bolashak program,” focus on technology, innovations and economic diversification have created all the conditions for Kazakhstan to emerge as a leader in international community.

Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE in 2010 and has been chairing the OIC Kazakhstan. It made a “very significant contribution to stabilizing Iraq by sending troops to assist the coalition’s efforts with demining. Today, Kazakhstan is supporting ISAF in Afghanistan by facilitating ground transportation and over-flights. It also is contributing to U.S. and international efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan through its investment of $50 million dollars to educate in Kazakhstani universities Afghanistan’s next generation of leaders. Additionally last October, Kazakhstan delivered over 5,000 tons of food and other supplies to Turkey after the devastating earthquake in that country. We look forward to working with Kazakhstan as it develops its work through KazAID and other mechanisms. At the Istanbul Conference last November, Foreign Minister Kazykhanov affirmed Kazakhstan’s commitment to improving regional cooperation, especially in support of Afghanistan’s stability. Regional leaders agreed on a set of ambitious confidence-building measures and a process of regular consultation to ensure implementation”.

“At Istanbul, Kazakhstan also took a lead in supporting the New Silk Road vision, with projects such as constructing the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation transportation corridor across Kazakhstan that will link China with Europe, and a north-south highway linking Central and South Asia. We welcome Kazakhstan’s ratification of an agreement with the Asian Development Bank January 16 to finance reconstruction of 790 kilometers of the CAREC transportation network that will connect Kazakhstan with its Central Asian neighbors, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, across the Caspian Sea. Such transport and other networks will help spur the trade and investment that can catalyze the regional integration everyone agrees will be essential to helping Afghanistan move to a trade – rather than aid – based economy and expand opportunities for the citizens of Central Asia.”

Assistant Secretary Blake encouraged Kazakhstan to continue its progress in the field of political reforms. “President Nazarbayev has the opportunity today to demonstrate the same far-sighted leadership to build democracy that he showed in renouncing nuclear weapons and initiating market reforms. The people of Kazakhstan will be the first beneficiaries, but Kazakhstan would also be a powerful example for the wider region,” he said.

“Over the past 20 years, the United States and Kazakhstan have developed a genuine and increasingly strategic partnership,” Blake said. “President Obama and President Nazarbayev reaffirmed that strategic partnership in April 2010, declaring our two nations’ commitment to a shared vision of stability, prosperity and democratic reform in Central Asia and the broader region. A partnership is an ongoing process. I am confident that our foundation is solid, prospects are bright and that it will continue far into the future.”

More colors were added to Assistant Secretary Blake statement by General Brent Scowcroft. In early 1989, when working in the Bush Administration, Scowcroft served as a National Security Advisor and met President Nazarbayev. He said President Nazarbayev “has a strong personality – strong, self-confident, visionary, and he has done wonders for Kazakhstan. He has to pay attention to passing on the stable political structure – passing on one which can adapt to the rapidly developing country, and to guarantee its economic and political development. The first steps were taken in the last election to increase representation in the parliament. That will be a task that I’m sure that President Nazarbayev will take on with relish, as he has all of his other enterprises.”

Scowcroft said that Kazakhstan remains “an energy powerhouse next door to a power-hungry Europe.”

He said Kazakhstan can play a critical role as the largest uranium producer to improve management of the world fuel cycle. “One of the ways that Kazakhstan could help is in the production of slightly enriched uranium for nuclear fuel and in the disposition of spent nuclear fuel. In other words, if we can look forward into a way to manage the growing nuclear power incentives in the world, it maybe is managing the fuel cycle in an international way which reduces the chances of proliferation by new nuclear power states. And Kazakhstan, I believe, can play a very important role in that regard,” General Scowcroft said.

Priorities of Kazakhstan-U.S. energy agenda were comprehensively summarized by Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman. In his statement, Mr. Poneman noted that, “President Nazarbayev took a historic choice, a strategic choice, a choice for peace, a choice to end testing at Semipalatinsk, a choice to send the nuclear weapons to Russia, and a choice to bet the future of Kazakhstan not on a vision of a legacy nuclear power; but a rather different kind of a vision of a nation that would turn away from nuclear weapons, that would embrace the principles of nuclear nonproliferation, and would bet the future on the talent of its people and the resources that nature had endowed the nation. By wisely developing its natural resources, a strong, prosperous and democratic Kazakhstan can energize the global transmission of learning, trade and freedom across the Steppes of Central Asia. We congratulate Kazakhstan on this momentous anniversary of its independence and we look forward to continuing to work with Kazakhstan in the pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation, regional energy security and prosperity for many, many years to come,” the Deputy Secretary said.

“Together, our nations can continue to make progress toward achieving our shared goals of securing vulnerable nuclear materials, combating illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime,” he stressed. “And together, Kazakhstan and the United States can continue to work to realize the ultimate vision that President Nazarbayev and President Obama both share, the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Our two nations have partnered with the International Atomic Energy Agency to blend down 33 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from the Kazakh Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty. The resulting low-enriched uranium cannot be redirected to weapons use. Instead, it would be returned to the Institute for future scientific work that will support the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy,” he said. “These efforts have resulted in a milestone achievement in our work to eliminate the remaining stocks of highly enriched uranium in Kazakhstan.”

Completed in secrecy over a seven-week period, the operation was a latest combined effort between the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, the Kazakhstan government and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It followed two decades of cooperation and reflected the shared commitment by the United States and Kazakhstan to secure dangerous nuclear and radiological material from terrorists.

U.S. and Kazakhstan share a long history of cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation issues. In May 2009, Kazakhstan completed the return of over 70 kilograms of used, highly enriched uranium fuel to Russia. Last November, the U.S. and Kazakhstan worked with international partners to secure 10 tons of highly enriched uranium and three tons of weapons-grade plutonium contained in used nuclear fuel from the BN-350 Reactor in Aktau, Kazakhstan.

Former U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper shared some of his observations about how Kazakhstan and the U.S. developed close ties. Napper credited Nazarbayev, saying he “was great at establishing partnerships with them and personal relationships. He could needle them gently when that opportunity presented itself. He was also – he – among all these leaders in the post-Soviet states, he had the facility of cracking a joke with these guys that worked.”

Napper recalled “a moment of the meeting of President Nazarbayev and President Bush in December 2001…when he came to see – after the 9/11 attacks, came to see President Bush. And he came into the office and said, ‘you know,’ and he had just been down to see George H.W. Bush in Texas. And he says, ‘you know, I have a message for you from President Bush, the – Bush 41.’”

“And the president says, ‘well, what is it?’ And he says, ‘well, he told me to tell you that he’s going to kick your backside at the Bush family bowling tournament at – (chuckles, laughter) – over the holidays.’”

Napper also praised Kazakhstan’s support of the U.S. following 9/11: “And that is immediately after the 9/11 attacks, because I was only six days into my ambassadorship in Kazakhstan when those attacks occurred. And President Nazarbayev immediately visited our embassy. He moved up the opportunity for me to present my credentials so we could begin to do business. He aligned himself, from the very start of the process of what we were going to do after the 9/11 attacks, with the work that had to be done – including working with the Central Asian states in order to put ourselves in a position to bring down the Taliban regime that had sponsored those attacks.”

He also referred to the successful cooperation with Ambassador Idrissov, then a Foreign Minister: “And I recall Yerlan was then foreign minister. He and I worked together. We even had a dedicated phone line installed between the ministry and the embassy so that we could work – I bet that phone is still there, Yerlan. Have you checked on that recently? It may still be there – on overflights and other issues. But that was a very, very important period and a period in which Kazakhstan moved quickly to align itself with the United States.”

U.S. Ambassador William Courtney, among other things, commented on the recent state of the nation address by President Nazarbayev:

“President Nazarbayev rightly highlighted the importance of finding an optimal balance in the production of private and public goods. In this regard, the IMF statement pointed out that Kazakhstan had scope for increasing public expenditure in health, education and infrastructure. I would add that transportation, infrastructure and border arrangements will be important for the expansion of surface transportation between China and Europe – what might be called the new northern Silk Road.”

According to Ambassador Courtney, President Nazarbayev correctly emphasized the value of “improving local self-government and increasing the participation of citizens in considering issues of local development.” Like other speakers on the panel, Courtney advocated for free and fair elections, a free media, freely operating NGOs and checks and balances in government.

More than 100 participants came out of the Conference with greater understanding of Kazakhstan, its achievements, challenges and future. Most of the experts shared a key message – “choice.” Kazakhstan has achieved a lot and those achievements have made Kazakhstan free to make its own choices. Today only Kazakhstan can decide how to proceed, what relations to develop and only Kazakhstan is able to be effective and successful.

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