By Bruce Pannier
Kazakhstan suppresses democracy much as its Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, do. But during the U.S. secretary of state's visit to Kazakhstan on 15 April, she emphasized the positive rather than the negative. RFE/RL Central Asian specialist using words like �dollars� and �oil� � explains why.
Prague, 17 Apr
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright began a swing through Central Asia in Kazakhstan on Saturday, which may just be the least troublesome of the countries she visited.
Albright raised some of the same issues in Kazakhstan which were her concern later in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Leaders in all three countries want to hear about security and other areas of cooperation and probably tolerate U.S. criticism of their poor human rights records and less-than-democratic elections.
But U.S. relations with Kazakhstan are substantially more positive than U.S. relations with Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. When Kazakhstan became independent in late 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, international oil companies were already aware that rich oil reserves had been left relatively undeveloped there. The companies scrambled to achieve footholds.
U.S.-based Chevron was one of the first to arrive. Chevron and the Kazakh state oil company formed a joint-venture named Tengizchevroil to work Kazakhstan's massive Tengiz oil field. The field began limited operations several years ago and is building up production. But the problem of exporting oil in mass quantities has yet to be resolved.
Numerous nations and international firms plan colossal projects to speed oil exports from Kazakhstan. The recent steep climb in world oil prices makes a country like Kazakhstan an especially important partner for industrial nations. Kazakhstan has vast oil reserves and is not a member of the international oil cartel OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
The United States has developed an overriding economic interest in Kazakhstan. U.S. companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in its power-generating facilities, oil refineries, metallurgical works and other industries. This economic fact is bound to inhibit how tough the secretary of state wishes to be with Kazakh leaders.
And she has reason to want to reward Kazakhstan, if only by words, for being a leader in surrendering its nuclear arsenal. Kazakhstan inherited nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union. After it became independent, it emerged as the first nuclear Islamic state. The United States urged Kazakh leaders to dismantle the nuclear weapons and also bought large amounts of nuclear material stored there. Thus, Kazakhstan also became the first nuclear country to dispose of its nuclear capability.
While economic ties between the two countries have strengthened, political ties have suffered. Kazakhstan in the early 1990s showed promise of becoming a democratic state.
But Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has gradually increased his powers. He dissolved the country's year-old parliament in March 1995, citing a Constitutional Court decision invalidating the 1994 election results.
Nazarbaev defended parliament twice against the court ruling, and then reversed himself, dissolving the body, saying it obstructed reforms. Two months later, he engineered a national referendum that resulted in extending his term in office.
He continued to increase his powers when parliament voted in October 1998 to hold early presidential elections and extend the president's term in office from five to seven years. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, sent teams to observe parliamentary elections in October 1999 and then pronounced them �short of democratic.� U.S. agreement with that criticism has produced a chill in U.S.-Kazakh relations.
In addition to her talks with Kazakh officialdom, Albright met with representatives from opposition parties in Astana on Saturday. One such representative, Seydahmet Kuttykadam of the Orleu Movement said in advance of the meeting:
�We will meet [Albright] at Astana's Intercontinental Hotel at 6 p.m. (1800). We will acquaint her with the situation in the country. And we hope Madeleine Albright will be able to understand this and will pay attention to the real situation in the country, that things are very critical. Our goal is to get the information to her to show that there is no democracy in this country.�
Kazakhstan's CIS neighbors to the south have trouble with Islamic militants. Kazakh security officials certainly know the militants could strike in their country next. Earlier this month, they welcomed U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louis Freeh. And the government also will be eager to hear what Albright has to say on security.
But, since they also are receiving promises of military and other support from Russia, they may be unwilling to pay the price of listening to Albright's lectures on democracy.
So Albright, in public, at least, stressed economic ties, Kazakhstan's commitment to peace and regional stability, and U.S. support for battling terrorism. Privately, she very likely reminded government officials that suppression of freedom probably contributes to militancy problems and damages Kazakhstan's image in the international community.
(Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)
By Nick Hordern
(Australian Financial Review)
Washington appears to have come closer to its goal of channelling Central Asia's vast petroleum reserves to Western markets after the meeting between US Secretary of State Dr Madeleine Albright and the President of Kazakhstan, Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev.
�They clearly have a lot of oil and it looks like they may have even more,� Dr Albright said after the meeting.
Kazakhstan's significant oil reserves may be swelled by further discoveries off its Caspian Sea coast.
And President Nazarbayev dismissed suggestions his Government was tilting towards Moscow and jeopardising Washington's goal of a main export pipeline (MEP) carrying Central Asian oil from the Azerbaijan capital of Baku to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
�Russia is our god-given neighbour and nobody really has a chance to choose who their neighbour is going to be,� he said in Kazakhstan's new capital, Astana.
At last week's summit in Baku of Turkish-speaking nations, Mr Nazarbayev refused to commit Kazakhstan to providing the oil volumes necessary to boost the viability of the Baku-Ceyhan line.
But in his meeting with Dr Albright, which took place at the weekend, Mr Nazarbayev signalled he was backing the MEP.
�I was pleased to learn of the Government's decision to eliminate the cap on oil exports and we applaud that action as a signal of Kazakhstan's intention to improve the climate for foreign and domestic investors,� Dr Albright said after their meeting.
Access to the petroleum reserves of the former Soviet republics is a key goal of the US strategy to link Central Asia to the West. But Russia and Iran offer cheaper pipeline options.
And US energy goals in Central Asia are �derivative� of other policy goals, such as the general desire to combat Islamic fundamentalism worldwide, says Dr William Maley of the University of NSW.
Iran offers an export outlet for Caspian Basin oil through its Persian Gulf terminals and much of the needed infrastructure is already in place. But Washington-Tehran relations have been frozen since 1979 and despite recent signs of a thaw US sanctions still prohibit investment in Iran's oil sector.
Dr Maley argues that as Washington-Tehran relations improve, the economic rationale for Iran as a conduit for Caspian Basin oil will become more compelling. �It's more plausible that in the long run US policy will drift towards Iran,� he said yesterday.
Washington also worries about the proliferation of conventional weapons and nuclear material through the former Soviet Kazakhstan.
Senior Kazakh officials have been implicated in the sale of MIG warplanes to North Korea and nuclear materials allegedly bound from Kazakhstan to Pakistan were intercepted recently in the neighbouring republic of Uzbekistan. The material could have been used to help Pakistan build enhanced-yield fission nuclear weapons, US experts said.
TASHKENT, Apr 17 (AFP)
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Monday urged Uzbekistan to introduce currency convertability and end government repression to ensure regional stability.
On the final leg of a Central Asian tour that included visits to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Albright stressed democracy building, convertability of Uzbekistan's som and regional cooperation as central to preventing the spread of terrorism and drugs and weapons trafficking through the region.
�Without a convertible currency you have the economies in this region walled off from each other and that inhibits growth,� a senior US official said following Albright's talks with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
�It's a major obstacle to regional economic integration and the single biggest obstacle to a supportive relationship with the IMF and the World Bank.�
Uzbek President Islam Karimov told the rubber-stamp parliament in January that the som, which trades at a black market rate nearly five times the official rate, would be convertible this year.
On April 1, the president issued a decree requiring foreigners to pay for items with hard currency in what observers said was a bid to collect hard currency reserves to protect the som before introducing convertability.
Albright also emphasized the role a strong democracy could play in staving off terrorists.
Karimov, a Soviet-style dictator who has ruled the republic with an iron fist, cracked down on all Muslim organisations following a series of blasts that rocked Tashkent killing 16 people in February 1999.
Human rights groups have criticised the Uzbek president for using the blasts as an excuse to repress legitimate political opposition to his regime and maintain his grip on the republic of 24 million people.
Washington believes Karimov's harsh reaction, rather than ridding the region of terrorism, may be exacerbating the problem.
�Our concern over the past year is that the actions of the government that go beyond trying to check individual organisations that are properly considered terrorists, that target Islamic groups broadly, are going to undermine this effort,� the senior official said.
Albright expressed concern about recent restrictions on Uzbek borders and the announcement that Uzbekistan would introduce a visa regime for citizens of all former Soviet republics.
�Regional cooperation is what ought to be the response and yet there seems to be a trend toward greater (disintegration), attempts to tighten borders, insulate economies and stop the flow of people,� the US official said.
Increasing incidents of Islamic terrorism and drugs and narcotics trafficking through the resource-rich region where many US oil majors are working has heightened concern among US policymakers this year.
�As the secretary said to the foreign minister this morning, "it"s not an accident that (CIA director) George Tenet, (FBI director) Louis Freeh and I have all been here in roughly the same time-frame,'� the official said.
After her meeting with Kamilov, Albright flew to the Silk Road city of Samarkand where she will visit a women's crisis center and meet with independent journalists.
All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
© 1998 IPA House. All Rights Reserved.