The Atlantic Council of the United States
Twenty Years of Kazakhstan Independence
Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council
Former Senator Chuck Hagel,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Republic of Kazakhstan
Assistant Secretary of State
for South and Central Asian Affairs
President and Founder,
The Scowcroft Group, Inc.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Federal News Service
ROSS WILSON: Good morning. My name is Ross Wilson; I’m the director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. And on behalf of the council, it’s my great pleasure to welcome you to this conference on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence and of the establishment of U.S-Kazakhstan relations.
We’re especially pleased and honored to welcome here Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, His Excellency Yerzhan Kazykhanov, who is taking time out of a busy schedule visiting Washington to help open this event. We’re also honored to have Ambassador Robert Blake, U.S. assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
I’m very grateful to the chairman of the Atlantic Council, Senator Chuck Hagel, and the chairman of the council’s international advisory board, General Brent Scowcroft, for joining us as well. Your being here demonstrates, from the very top of the Atlantic Council, this organization’s engagement and commitment to Kazakhstan and to Central Asia.
It’s customary at events such as this to recognize ambassadors in the room. If I did that, I would be speaking for quite a long time. There are at least 12, and possibly more, present or past U.S. and Kazakh ambassadors to each other’s countries, or ambassadors who had a lot to do with U.S.-Kazakhstan relations over the course of the last 20 years.
Two that I will recognize: the current American ambassador to Kazakhstan, Ken Fairfax, welcome; and also, of course, Ambassador Erlan Idrissov, current Kazakh ambassador to the United States, a friend of many of us, who encouraged the council to put together this retrospective and prospective look at Kazakhstan that we’ll have today. The council appreciates your support very much, and I also want to acknowledge the generous support of Chevron toward making this – today’s conference possible.
Today’s events look at Kazakhstan through two prisms: its very substantial achievements over the last 20 years, and the tasks that lie ahead. When independence was achieved at the end of 1991 – and a number of us in this room were involved, in one way or another, in U.S. foreign policy at that time – the circumstances and problems confronting the country must have been – have looked daunting, if not even extreme and fearsome. Our first session today after the opening will look back at the circumstances Kazakhstan faced in those early days and over the two decades that have followed, and how it managed some of those issues.
The next 20 years may be just as daunting. Kazakhstan will face many problems, some that will be new and some that represent unfinished business in its transition from the past. Our second session will talk about these issues, whose development will have tremendous bearing on the country’s ability further to consolidate an independent, free, prosperous and secure future for itself and for its citizens.
Throughout these discussions, and especially in our final session this afternoon, we can also reflect on the important role that our bilateral relationship has played. We’re not here to reminisce, but I am counting on my many friends, both Kazakh and American ambassadors, to share us some good stories. And you know who you are, so please be prepared.
To help us start the conversation, if not the reminiscing, I’m honored to be able to introduce Senator Chuck Hagel, chairman of the Atlantic Council. A two-term senator from the great Midwestern state of Nebraska, Senator Hagel served as a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while in office. He made it his business to become one of the members of Congress most interested, knowledgeable and involved in foreign affairs and in the global challenges of importance to the United States. He brought that with him to the Atlantic Council.
He also serves as co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, on the secretary of defense’s policy board, as a distinguished professor at Georgetown University and in many other capacities in the public life of this country. Please welcome Senator Chuck Hagel. (Applause.)
CHUCK HAGEL: Ross, thank you. Good morning. I add my welcome to each of you, and my thanks on behalf of the Atlantic Council for your contributions to not only this forum today, but to all of the efforts in leadership that you have made over the years to promote and deepen and widen this particular relationship between the United States and Kazakhstan.
As Ross Wilson noted, I believe today we’ll reflect on not just the last 20 years, the tremendous challenges and obstacles that Kazakhstan overcame – continues to work through; but the partnership that evolved and grows and strengthens each day between our countries. When one thinks of what happened 20 years ago in the world, when the Soviet Union collapsed, it unleashed tremendous forces of liberty, of possibilities, of hope, which the world had not seen, certainly since World War II. This also presented an astounding amount of great challenges for Central Asia and the former Soviet republics: no institutions, no governing institutions; there were ethnic, cultural questions and issues; tremendous poverty; hunger.
Everywhere you looked, and every metric you would apply to a successful society and nation, was in great question – not least of which, of course, was the nuclear arsenal that resided in Kazakhstan. And, much to the credit of so many people who worked diligently – including two of my friends, as well as many in this audience, and former colleagues Senators Nunn and Lugar – did an awful lot, and Dick Lugar still does as he visits Kazakhstan each year – and many of the Soviet – former Soviet republics – to focus on the continuation of dismantling these nuclear weapons. We’ll talk about that today. We’ll hear about that today from those who were there and contributed most to bringing Kazakhstan to where it is today.
Most importantly, though, what we will hear today – as we think about and talk about the future – which is what we’re really about, as the world needs to be about – is a focus on the Kazakhs themselves, and how they themselves were responsible for pulling together a very, very impressive country that has made astounding progress; and what that represents not just for Kazakhstan, not just for this relationship – the U.S.-Kazakhstan relationship – but just as importantly, and maybe more so, the region: stability, security, possibilities, engagement. And that is probably the anchor of, I think, the most significant accomplishments and what will represent the next 20 years that we all can look forward to.
Many in this audience, as I noted – and Ross introduced a couple, and there will be more introduced, and you’ll hear from a number today – were significant parts of that. And I want to add also my thanks to the ambassadors in this room who played a tremendous role in that, in particular the two ambassadors today that are already been acknowledged – our ambassador, Ambassador Fairfax, and Ambassador Idrissov – for the roles that you play; also to Chevron for its sponsorship of this forum today. There are corporate leaders in the room today. And you’ll hear from one of them, Ken Derr, who was the chairman and CEO of Chevron at the time, 20 years ago, when Chevron started to work arrangements and relationships with Kazakhstan – which have materialized and, I think, developed into not only significant energy production opportunities and realities, but also set down a base – a commercial base – a model for many other commercial ventures. And there are others in this room who were part of that. So Ken, welcome, and thank you for your continued involvement.
Also, another individual I want to recognize, who has been noted, is our assistant secretary – who, in his long, distinguished career as a diplomat – professional – career foreign service officer, has contributed a great deal to this as well. So Ambassador Blake, thank you.
Brent Scowcroft will be up here this morning. And I think you all have some understanding of Brent Scowcroft’s significance to this country, to the world; the contributions he’s made; and this particular contribution, the U.S.-Kazakhstan relationship, is not one of the minor achievements of General Scowcroft. So Brent, we’re – we appreciate you being here, and of course what you’ve done and – for and meant to – and your continued contributions to the Atlantic Council.
Chairmen of any institution are usually relegated to being very brief in their remarks – (laughter) – which I violate that occasionally, but I’m – (laughter) – a reformed United States senator. So I’m – (laughter) – attempting to put behind me the bad habits I picked up in the Senate. I’m not always successful, as you have just noted. But nonetheless, I try.
But our role is to – is to introduce the famous people, really, at these forums. And I have the distinct honor to introduce the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, who has played a rather significant role in this relationship and the development of Kazakhstan on the world stage. And that’s the other part of this, which is a remarkable story on not just what has happened in the areas that I have noted – you’ll hear more about in detail today – but the role Kazakhstan has played on the world stage. That is one of the great accomplishments of what’s happened in Kazakhstan over the last 20 years.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Kazykhanov. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
MINISTER YERZHAN KAZYKHANOV: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a real privilege and honor for me to address this distinguished audience. And this is the first visit to Washington – my first visit in my capacity as a foreign minister, although I’ve been to the United States many times, and I’ve been working as an ambassador to New York.
And – but before sharing with you some thoughts about Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan-American relations, I would like to begin with few special thank-you. And I want to acknowledge the friendship and support of Ambassador Robert Blake of the State Department, General Brent Scowcroft and Senator Chuck Hagel, and thank you for giving me the floor; and a few former ambassadors to Kazakhstan – some of them here, some of them not – I’m talking about Beth Jones, Larry Napper – and I seen him sitting in the room – William Courtney, Richard Jones and Richard Hoagland, and of course current ambassador Ken Fairfax.
Thank you also to the honorary consul of Kazakhstan in San Francisco, Ken – Kenneth Derr, and the chairman of Chevron who signed the first breakthrough oil deal on Tengiz with President Nursultan Nazarbayev back in early ’90s; and to Ambassador Ross Wilson, our host today. This event and the close relationships between my country and yours would not be possible without all of you, and many more people I don’t have time to thank.
I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate Atlantic Council on the 50th anniversary. It is inspiring to see how your organization – initially focusing on U.S.-Europe, really, relations – is now contributing to foreign policy and international security on a global scale. In the meantime, let me welcome everyone to this event, and allow me to tell you a little about my country.
Distinguished friends, Kazakhstan is a new country. Last year we celebrated 20th anniversary of our sovereignty. The path which Kazakhstan chose in the first days of its independence remains unchangeable. Kazakhstan is a peace-loving nation. Its foreign policy is predictable, consistent and multivectored. That means we go out of our way to get along with everyone: first our neighbors, China and Russia; but also Europe and especially the United States. In short, our foreign policy stipulates that we do not have adversaries anywhere.
Most experts agree that Kazakhstan has done remarkably well in establishing independent foreign policy – better, in fact, than other former Soviet countries. Our foreign relations started – our foreign relations started even before we gained our independence on December 16, ’91. Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, decided back then to create an – and maintain favorable conditions for the steady development of the country on the basis of political and economic reforms. Liberalization and determined integration into the world community was our goal then, and it is now.
An earlier success – an earlier success was our decision to spearhead nuclear disarmament – and – (inaudible) – said about that – and nonproliferation. Kazakhstan closed the Soviet nuclear testing sites and renounced what was then the world’s fourth-largest arsenal of the nuclear weapons. We remain to this day a leader in the efforts to rid of – to rid the world of nuclear devices of destruction. This is true even though we are also the largest producers of uranium.
Within this short – in terms of history – period of time, a lot of work has been done in the country on the path to develop democracy, rule of law, human rights and basic freedoms. Significant measures has been undertaken to enhance the system of human rights protection, develop the strength in civil society institutions. One of the most basic accomplishments is that Kazakhstan has been stable throughout its independence.
Moreover, we have achieved remarkable economic growth. You know that Kazakhstan is the most economically significant country in the region, with a strong resource base. The country has 3 percent of the world’s raw materials. Since ’93, Kazakhstan’s GDP grew up from $11 billion to $145 billion in 2010. Our GDP per capita today is $11,000, which you – if you compare it with the figures that we start with – we started with 700 (dollars) per capita income; now we have 11,000 (dollars), which is significant. And we have rather ambitious goals to double our economy by 2020 and reach the level of $16,000 per capita income in three years’ time.
Foreign direct investment in – into Kazakhstan amounted around 80 percent of all capital inflows into the Central Asian economies, with the European Union countries being the most important source of investment. The highly developed banking system, stable institutions and friendly government policy further encourage foreign investments.
From the very beginning it – of its independence, Kazakhstan has constantly been trying to promote regional economic integration. Astana has cooperated with the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Association, the Central Asian Economic Association, as well as the Shanghai Corporation Organization. Obviously, security and cooperation in Central Asia are priority for us. We are actively investing in our neighborhood and promoting regional efforts to confront regional challenges like illicit drug trafficking, water management, labor migration and disaster relief.
Kazakhstan is interested in stable development in Afghanistan – not least as a way of containing the spread of drugs, extremism and terrorism. We have spent 50 million (dollars) to educate young Afghans in Kazakhstan, and we have provided humanitarian assistance including fuel and wheat to Afghanistan.
We have growing partnership with the European Union. After Russia and Norway, our country is the third biggest supplier of energy resources to Europe among non-OPEC countries. We hope that our multidimensional cooperation with the countries of Europe will soon be reflected in a new basic agreement between Kazakhstan and the European Union.
At the same time, we are becoming more economically integrated with Russia and Belarus. As you know, we have established a customs union that will enable free movement of capital, labor sources, goods and services. This gives us to a market – this gives us access to a market of 170 million people.
As a Eurasian country, we look east as well as west. For example, we are part of massive transportation project, the China-Western Europe Motorway, going all the way from western China to Western Europe with 3,000 kilometers crossing the territory of Kazakhstan. We are also moving ahead with our efforts to join the WTO, and we appreciate America’s support. Extending its influence beyond Central Asia, Kazakhstan has also helped create the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures, known as CICA. CICA demonstrated that Kazakhstan is a part of larger Asian universe, just as its presidency of the OSCE in 2010 established its ties to Europe.
Kazakhstan has built solid relationships with various organizations, foremost among them: the CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, the European Union. At the moment, we are chairing the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the second largest international organization after the United Nations – our task to improve understanding between Muslims and Western world. You can only imagine how busy job is.
We are bidding to become a U.N. Security Council nonpermanent members in 2017, 2018. Wish us luck. In any case, Kazakhstan remains committed to a proactive engagement with the international community, as we believe it is only through greater cooperation that we can build a better and more prosperous world for all.
Our welcoming attitude abroad is matched by our embrace of democracy at home. Kazakhstan is a developing democracy. We get better with each election. Earlier this month, we held parliamentary elections. Seventy five percent of those eligible voted. And as a result, we will now have a multiparty legislature. For a young country still learning the ropes, that is a great achievement. And we look forward to make – to making more progress in the year – in the years to come.
Kazakhstan has welcomed the presence of all international observers and believes their work has played an important and generally constructive role in the ongoing development of our electoral process. In fact, I give you the figures that we had 819 observers from 11 international organizations and 29 countries. I think that it says for itself, as well as we had 156 foreign media representatives coming from abroad to observe the elections. All international organizations have made independent assessments and conclusions based on their own observation of the electorial (sic; electoral) process. We understand that democracy in our nation is still a work in progress. Kazakhstan will continue to pursue a steady path of democratization, ensuring fundamental freedoms and human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States was the first state in the world to recognize the sovereignty of our country on the 25th December 1991. And for that, we will always be grateful to the American people. I tell you that it was a really significant moment because many of you know that famous Alma Ata Declaration that was adopted on the 21st of December 1991, when the leaders of all former Soviet republics gathered together in Almaty, and they adopted this declaration creating the CIS. It was the beginning of independence. So four days later, we received U.S. recognition, and we signed the diplomatic relations between two countries. It’s – in fact, two countries are now competing who was the first – U.S. and Turkey. (Laughter.) And I – I’m proud that I, at that time, being young diplomat, I helped first American diplomats to set up their new embassy, and William Courtney was the first ambassador. I even remember the name of first diplomat who came to Kazakhstan. It was Daria Fane (sp). She was the first diplomat who arrived to Kazakhstan. (Chuckles.)
Well – and therefore another anniversary is 20 years of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the United States of America is very important for all bilateral relations. Over the past two decades, a strong strategic partnership has been established between Kazakhstan and the United States. This partnership is both wide and deep. It is based both on bilateral agreements and friendship. In September 2006, the president of our two countries issued a joint statement, which they laid out – in which they laid out the strategic perspective for Kazakhstan-American relations. This include deepening our partnership in areas like energy, military cooperation, trade, and investment and democratization.
Kazakhstan is actively supporting a number of American initiatives. For example, we endorsed the new Silk Road project on the creation of a(n) original network of economic and transit connections, connecting South and Central Asia with Afghanistan. With this aim, we played an active part in the international fora 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.
For its part, the United States is supporting Kazakhstan initiatives. On December 2nd, 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution initiated by Kazakhstan, declaring 29th August date of the permanent closure of the Semipalatinsk Test Site, as an international day against nuclear tests. It is important to note that 26 states, including the United States, were the co-authors of this resolution. A high-level American delegation has participated in the international forum on nuclear-free war that took place in Kazakhstan in October 2011. There is a high level interparliamentary cooperation. There is a caucus of friends of Kazakhstan and caucus on Central Asia in the U.S. Congress. Furthermore, we have a continuous change of interparliamentary delegations.
Trade and economic relations between our two countries are increasing. The U.S. is one of the Kazakhstan’s biggest trade partners. According to 11 months of last year, the volume of commodity turnover between the two countries was $2.5 billion. That is 26 percent more than for the same period of the previous year. From ‘93, the gross inflow of direct investments from United States to Kazakhstan amounted for over $20 billion. Since 2006, we have been taking – we have been working with our American friends to implement a program of economic development, designed to diversify the economy, improve the competitiveness, and achieve steady growth.
For the past 10 years, the Kazakh-American special commission on partnership in the field of energy has been established. And I had, yesterday, a very good meeting with Mr. Poneman, and we discussed energy cooperation issues. By the way, our country has put forward this candidature to host Expo 2017 in Astana, with the topic “Energy of the Future.” We believe that this topic is of great interest to our American partners. The support of the United States for our candidature would be a wonderful opportunity to once again confirm the unanimity of our views in the field of sustainable development.
Another important topic for our common cooperation is the strengthening of a regional integration 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 one of the basic instrument for stimulating the integration process in the region. Also, in the field of defense, the cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United States is actively developing. Over the duration of our military cooperation, the United States has allocated over $91 million to Kazakhstan in assistance program.
Ladies and gentlemen, of course, like any country, we sometimes face internal difficulties. For example, regardless of our internationally-recognized success in the field of achieving interconfessional harmony, Kazakhstan has not been immune from some manifestations of Islamic radicalism. For example, there were attacks by religious extremists last year in Aktyubinsk region and city of Taraz. We cannot allow to spread and – spread of extremism or terrorism in our country. Therefore, we took a firm response, which I think was understood by the international community.
It is clear that the labor dispute that appeared to have caused the demonstrations and violence in the Mangystau district should have been resolved earlier. The loss of life was tragic. And our government has expressed its sympathy and support for the families of the victims. In the immediate aftermath of the violence incident – violent incidence, we took steps to restore order and provide security for our citizens, and we launched an independent and comprehensive investigation into the causes of violence and the response of the police. We recognized that a full understanding of this event can yield important lessons for government and help contribute to more effective policymaking and governance in future.
Ladies and gentlemen, in concluding my remarks, I am confident that our meeting today will further strengthen mutual understanding, trust, political and economic cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United States, for the benefit of our peoples and for stability and security in the world. This is the main reason, in my opinion – in my opinion, why the work of this Atlantic Council conference is so important for both parties. In this regard, let me wish you – all of us cooperative and fruitful work. Thank you very much for your attention. (Applause.)
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister, for those excellent remarks. It really laid out many of the issues that I think we’ll be discussing in more detail today. To give us the American government’s perspective on Kazakhstan and U.S.-Kazakhstan relations, we’re very pleased to have with us Robert Blake. A career diplomat, Ambassador Blake has served in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, and India. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 until he was appointed assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian affairs in 2009. Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Robert Blake. (Applause.)
ROBERT BLAKE: Well, thank you very much, Ross. I appreciate that introduction.
Mr. Minister, let me add my own very warm words of welcome to you. Here in Washington, Secretary Clinton looks very much forward to seeing you tomorrow in your bilateral meeting. And let me also just thank the Atlantic Council for arranging this conference here today. It’s a real treat for me to see so many of the diplomats who did so much to build relations that now exist between our two countries and to share a platform with wonderful leaders like General Scowcroft and Senator Hagel. So thank you all so much for all that you have done to help build this partnership.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Kazakhstan have enjoyed 20 years of dynamic and growing partnership. We’ve worked closely and cooperatively together, starting on December 21st – 25th 1991, as Senator Hagel and the minister said, when then-Secretary of State James Baker visited Almaty to meet with President Nazarbayev and establish formal diplomatic relations between our countries. Twenty years later, we have accomplished much, but see great scope to do more. When they meet tomorrow, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Kazykhanov will discuss how our two nations can strengthen further our strategic partnership in the years to come.
From the very first days, our relations with Kazakhstan focused on integrating Kazakhstan into the world community and helping it to deal with the many challenges of a new nation. First among those was nuclear nonproliferation, since newly independent Kazakhstan inherited responsibility for a broad array of nuclear weapons and other arms. Many people 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, creating untold dangers, instability and risks. Thanks in part to our close cooperation that did not happen. Key to this outcome was President Nazarbayev’s firm decision to make Kazakhstan the first country voluntarily to relinquish nuclear weapons and protect stockpiles of other dangerous materials. Not only did Kazakhstan transfer those weapons out of Kazakhstan in a responsible way, but it ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Since then, we’ve worked to reduce other risks of proliferation, including helping to decommission the Soviet-era nuclear reactor in Aktau that produced weapons-grade plutonium, and moving tons of spent fuel, which could easily be used to produce nuclear weapons, to secure long-term storage. Today, Kazakhstan remains a key player in nonproliferation cooperation as it meets the challenges of the 21st century, both bilaterally with the United States and increasingly multilaterally. It 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.
Energy is another important building block of our growing relationship. As the Soviet Union began to dissolve, U.S. energy companies took what, at the time, was an economic and political risk by investing in oil and gas development in Kazakhstan. The risk paid off, producing a partnership between a stable, responsible government and international energy firms with the necessary capital and expertise to help unlock Kazakhstan’s energy resources.
Again, President Nazarbayev recognized the challenge and opportunities for his young country and initiated macroeconomic reforms that set the country firmly on the path towards a market economy. The decision was not an easy one, and the country went through a painful period of adjustment in the 1990s. However, these reforms created what is today one of the strongest economies in the former Soviet Union.
For twenty years, Kazakhstan has also attracted considerable international investment, particularly in the extractive industries, that has created jobs and prosperity. Kazakhstan stands out in the region for substantially reducing poverty and laying a solid foundation for the creation of a real middle class. The Kazakhstani government’s wise decision to create a national oil fund has served to protect the country against the effects of the financial crisis and to help ensure that oil revenues are invested for the future of Kazakhstan’s people.
To further diversify its economy and stimulate further economic reforms, Kazakhstan soon hopes to join the World Trade Organization, which the United States strongly supports, and recently announced it will adhere to the principles of the OECD’s Declaration on International Investments and Multinational Enterprises. WTO accession and participation in the OECD will help and encourage Kazakhstan to make the structural changes necessary for it to take advantage of regional and global integration efforts, and to spur its own domestic output and exports.
Kazakhstan recognized economic success would rest on investments in education, particularly higher education. The Bolashak scholarship program has provided thousands of young Kazakhstani undergraduates and post-graduates education in high-quality universities around the world, including in the United States. The academic success of these young Kazakhstanis, and Kazakhstan’s growing economic and regional weight, made it of interest to American universities. It was no surprise, then, that the newly established Nazarbayev University in Astana has partnered with top- tier international universities, including Duke, Rensselaer and several other American universities, to provide students in Kazakhstan with education that meets international standards.
The close partnership that both Nazarbayev University and the Kazakhstan Institute of Management have with top-ranked U.S. universities as well as with two Department of Energy national labs speaks volumes about the robust nature of the ongoing cooperation and government focus on investment in education and the development of Kazakhstan’s youth. The planned opening of a Carnegie International Institute for Peace program at the Al-Farabi University represents yet another example of advanced education and scholarly cooperation.
The United States has been fully supportive of Kazakhstan’s commitment to international education. We are pleased to host Kazakhstani students at our many excellent universities, and we look forward to Kazakhstan’s continued, considerable investment in international education to complement the large investment we have made through our own professional and educational exchange programs, such as the Fulbright, Muskie, Future Leaders and International Visitor Leadership Programs.
A focus on education, technology and innovation continues to be a priority for both of us. Kazakhstan was the first country in Central Asia to sign a bilateral science and technology agreement with the United States. And our bilateral science working group held its first meeting in 2011 and is now developing ideas for future cooperation.
Progress on education and innovation are part of Kazakhstan’s welcome efforts to position itself as a leader in the international community. Kazakhstan, as the minister noted, has assumed a much more prominent role on the world stage, first as the 2010 chairman in office of the OSCE, and now as the 2011 chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It is increasingly assuming an important role as a donor, with considerable assets and expertise. It made a very significant contribution to stabilizing Iraq by sending troops to assist the coalition efforts with demining.
Today Kazakhstan is supporting ISAF in Afghanistan by facilitating ground transportation and over-flights. It is also contributing to U.S. and international efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan through its investment of $50 million 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 that shook 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 supporting the Central Asia regional economic cooperation transportation corridors across Kazakhstan, that will link China with Europe and will also create a north-south highway linking Central and South Asia.
We welcome also Kazakhstan’s ratification of an agreement with the Asian development bank, just a few weeks ago, to finance reconstruction of 790 kilometers of the kara (ph) 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 the opportunities for all the citizens of Central Asia.
Despite Kazakhstan’s undeniable progress over the last 20 years, there remain important steps that must be taken to fully ensure Kazakhstan’s long-term stability and prosperity. President Nazarbayev has often spoken about the three goals he set for his country when Kazakhstan became independent: to build a truly sovereign and independent state, to jump-start the economy and to liberalize the political system.
Kazakhstan has advanced rapidly in pursuit of the first two goals, although the country still faces challenges with respect to economic diversification. But the third goal remains largely unmet, despite Kazakhstan’s stated commitments to reform and to uphold human rights and democratic principles. At the OSCE ministerial in Vilnius on December 6th, Secretary Clinton stated that even as the United States seeks cooperation with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations on Afghanistan, energy and trade, we will continue to encourage our Central Asian partners, both governments and civil society, to pursue democratic reforms and improve respect for fundamental human rights.
We believe a prosperous, peaceful future for Kazakhstan, and an increasingly deep bilateral relationship between our two countries, will benefit from meaningful progress to institutionalize democracy and ensure respect for the human rights of all of Kazakhstan’s citizens. A more open and dynamic political system would reflect the maturity of the country and provide institutional bases for long-term stability, predictability and development that the people of Kazakhstan deserve.
We hope that Kazakhstan’s newly-elected multiparty Majlis will shape a legislative process that reflects the needs and the desires of all Kazakhstani people through transparency, lively debates and public hearings. The Majlis can take bigger steps towards political openness by considering the opinions of all political factions and segments of society. Respect for freedoms of expression, association, assembly and religious belief is necessary to undergird social dialogue and vibrant democratic, as well as economic, development.
We also hear and support important voices from within and outside of the government of Kazakhstan, calling for greater independence of the media and judiciary, space for civil society to operate without undue hindrance and an electoral system and laws to ensure fair elections that fully meet international standards. 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.
So in conclusion, let me say that over the past 20 years the United States and Kazakhstan have developed a genuine and increasingly strategic partnership. 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, and I am confident that our foundation is solid, that prospects are bright, and that it will continue far into the future. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. To complete this opening session, it gives me special pleasure to introduce General Brent Scowcroft. As many in this room will recall, General Scowcroft served President Nixon as deputy national security adviser to Henry Kissinger, and then as national security adviser in his own right during the presidencies of Gerald Ford and then George H. W. Bush, during which time the USSR collapsed and Kazakhstan achieved its independence along with the other republics of the former Soviet Union.
General Scowcroft is a mentor to me, to many in this room, a leader of the Atlantic Council, along with Senator Hagel and Fred Kempe. Please join me in welcoming General Scowcroft. (Applause.)
BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you very much, Ross, for those kind words. There’s very little left to say after the comprehensive presentations of the foreign minister and Secretary Blake, and so I’ll say very little. But what I’d like to do is maybe add just a little bit of color, because President Bush, Sr. came into office just shortly before all of these dynamic developments took place. And so we had – not only a key seat in the audience watching these developments, but we were participants in a process which we had not fundamentally anticipated, didn’t know what direction it would go or how it would turn out.
And it all sounds so pat and scripted now, but, boy, it wasn’t. I first met Nursultan Nazarbayev early in 1989, shortly after we had come into office. And he came on a visit to Washington. And he came into my office and he was the archetype, to me, of a Soviet politician. You know, he just looked the picture. And he sat down, and at this time he was the chairman of the council of ministers of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan, a part of the Soviet Union.
Well, we didn’t really, at that time – we didn’t think of all of the entities of the Soviet Union. There was the Soviet government and the rest of them didn’t really matter – psychologically. So he sat down and he told me what a wonderful place Kazakhstan was, and how rich it was in raw materials, and how he wanted to turn it into a dynamic structure. And he was extremely impressive – positive and impressive. But I thought, well, that’s nice.
Then we got involved in the unraveling of the Soviet Union. And there are two aspects to it that I want to mention, and they’re aspects that continue strongly today with our bilateral relations, and that is: energy, in general, and nuclear aspects in particular. Because shortly after Nazarbayev came in to see me, Ken Derr came to visit the president. And Ken Derr presented what was a pretty astonishing notion, the idea that an American oil company would invest in the Soviet Union, and could we help.
Well, we didn’t know how to – how to help exactly, so the president talked to Gorbachev, and is that the way to go or do you go directly to Kazakhstan? We didn’t know. But we pushed that notion of investment because that looked like a really solid way to start to be – to start a different process with a Soviet Union that we could see was in – was in dramatic change.
But then came the unmistakable signs of a breakup. And Gorbachev was trying to restructure the union into a more autonomous group. And he was having elections. He had a new constitution for the Soviet Union and he was having elections around in the various republics. And so this was going on. In the meantime, we’re looking at the Soviet Union with a nuclear arsenal that is absolutely immense, and we began to talk. What do we do if this falls apart? Are we better off with whatever parts remaining – even if it fell apart, there still could be a Soviet Union because the notion that the Soviet Union would disappear as it did in the following December was still very remarkable.
So our – would we be better off with a Soviet Union that, whatever happened to the internal structures, controlled all the nuclear weapons? It terms of control of the weapons, absolutely. But then you’re faced with the huge arsenal under single control. Is that in our interest or is in our interest really to have control of those weapons go to the constituent states, which would make a concerted attack by the Soviet Union on the United States improbable if not impossible but it would disperse control of those weapons to a number of different places, which is troublesome.
So those were the problems that we struggled with. And Nazarbayev helped us enormously because he was committed mentally – and we didn’t know this at the time – he was committed mentally to make a contribution to nonproliferation and to getting rid of nuclear weapons. And Kazakhstan was a particularly important place. Not only were there four bases of missiles deployed there, but it was a Semipalatinsk test ground. So if the Soviet Union broke up, would they be willing to let go of their test facilities, because they were all in Kazakhstan?
So it was a very complicated issue. And Nazarbayev came up and helped us enormously, because he said: I want to close Semipalatinsk. I don’t want it at all. So that solved that kind – that part of the problem. But those were the – those were the things we were wrestling with while this was going on and before we really got to know Nazarbayev.
I think on – moving forward, the last time Nazarbayev came to Washington, I think, in 2006 – somewhere around there – he chided us and the weapons states of the world for not making reductions in the size of the arsenals. Well, we now do have a new START treaty and the way is cleared for further steps. And I think that Kazakhstan can play a role, not only in urging reduction in nuclear weapons but, as the foreign minister said, they’re the largest uranium producer in the world with, I think, at least the second-largest reserves.
And one of the things that we need to do is to get better management of the fuel cycle. And 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.
In the energy field, Kazakhstan remains an energy powerhouse next door to a power-hungry Europe. And the possibilities there are enormous. One of the problems is that that part of the world is difficult in terms of how you ship – how you get out, how you get the resources out. It’s been one of my favorite hobby-horses to look at the Caspian Sea and to envision the possibility of a pipeline under the Caspian Sea, which would remove the possibilities of interruption of supplies in a way which could help all the way around.
Now, one of the problems is, who owns the Caspian Sea? And is it – it’s an international body. It – do you take the traditional ways you do for the oceans and divide it into its sectors? A number, I believe, of the Caspian partners want that. Or do you treat it, as Russia says, it’s a collectivity and it takes unanimous consent to do it. Anyway, it seems to me, the interesting thing is if you go back to the beginning of the time of our relationship with this great country to the present, the two key elements that we started the relationship with are still very important aspects.
Let me say just one additional thing about President Nazarbayev. He has a strong personality – strong, self-confident and visionary. And I think that he has done wonders for Kazakhstan. Increasingly, though, 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.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you. Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, for gracing us with your presence. And good luck with the conference. (Applause.)
MR. WILSON: Thank you very much, General Scowcroft, for those remarks that I think lead very nicely into the next session. That concludes the opening of this conference. Please don’t go far. Our next session, “Looking Back at Kazakhstan’s First Twenty Years,” will start more or less immediately. In the meantime, please join me in thanking all of our opening speakers. (Applause.)