Efforts to Create UN Regional Diplomacy Hub in Almaty Continue

ASTANA, May 27 – Kazakhstan is working with the United Nations on turning Almaty into a UN regional diplomacy hub, the country’s foreign minister announced last week in Astana drawing enthusiastic support from a visiting top level UN official.

Speaking at a May 23 press conference during the Sixth Astana Economic Forum, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov noted that the establishment of a UN regional hub in Almaty is not an easy process and requires a lot of time and efforts.

He has also noted that Almaty has already become an international center which serves regional needs.

“The facts that more than 16 offices of the UN system organizations are already present in Almaty and most of them have regional character are the best proof for that,” Idrissov stressed adding that the work on the establishment of such a hub is a “working process.”

He went on to highlight Kazakhstan’s readiness to create all conditions needed for the work of international organizations in Almaty, as stated in an earlier meeting between President Nursultan Nazarbayev and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“We hope our cooperation will result in the creation of a UN regional representation office in our country,” the foreign minister told the press conference adding that the participation of Kazakhstan’s delegation in the UN General Assembly in September 2013 will help promote the case.

Speaking alongside Erlan Idrissov, President of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly Vuk Jeremic offered his views on the matter.

“There is a UN centre in Vienna and there is a UN centre in Bangkok, there is a vast geography between those two places… One actually asks oneself a question as to where to place another hub? Given Kazakhstan’s prominence, given Kazakhstan’s engagement and also the role it has played in the past and in the face of the challenges that the world faces, security ones like Afghanistan, but also developmental ones, I think it’s not too difficult to make a strong case for a UN activities center being placed here,” Jeremic said.

Jeremic is an elected official whose job is to chair the proceedings of the UN General Assembly session during one year. The decision on the establishment of a UN regional diplomacy hub lies within the purview of UN offices.

To recall, Kazakhstan has offered to host a UN hub in Almaty where Central Asian countries can co-operate on aiding Afghanistan and promoting regional development and humanitarian assistance efforts.

At a June 2012 meeting with head of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Ján Kubiš, President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed to set up such a hub.

“Kazakhstan is ready to participate in stabilizing Afghanistan and facilitating peace there,” the President said without defining the schedule for the completion of the project.

In October 2012, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov met Babatunde Osotimehin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, to discuss development of the social and economic sphere in Kazakhstan and outlook for further cooperation in Central Asia, including in the context of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. On that occasion, Idrissov also underlined Kazakhstan’s initiative to transform Almaty into the sub-regional hub of multilateral diplomacy with the opening of a UN Secretariat regional office being conductive for cooperation enhancement.

Kazakh experts believe the setting up of a UN hub in Almaty will not only help increase the efficiency of activities of all UN system organisations’ offices located in Almaty, specialized institutions of the UN, but will also attract international structures to the country, planning to expand the activity in the region.

“It [regional hub] will include all those international structures which are already now (in the region). It is a question of the creation of a hub to position Almaty as the regional center of international diplomacy,” head of the Foreign Policy Center at the Administration of the President Yerzhan Ashikbayev said at launch of a book “Kazakhstan in the International Community” in March 2013.

Earlier, at a June 2011 meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan’s then Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov told heads of the United Nations agencies’ offices in Kazakhstan that after gaining its independence, Kazakhstan has been vigorously developing fruitful cooperation with the United Nations. Since February 1992, some 19 specialized agencies, funds and programmes of the UN system have established their active presence in Kazakhstan. Since the early days, there has been a full-scale cooperation with all UN institutions.

“Kazakhstan, which has been playing over the years an ever more important role as a regional donor and providing significant assistance to neighbouring countries, is working on the establishment of KazAID, Kazakhstan’s international aid agency. The United Nations Country Office could provide invaluable expertise and technical assistance in the practical implementation of that idea,” Kazykhanov underlined then.

“We believe a decision to give Almaty the status of a UN regional centre would not only contribute to the fuller implementation of regional projects that serve to strengthen cooperation in Central Asia, but could also provide an impetus to the process of drawing next-door countries and regions into the orbit of development assistance,” Kazykhanov noted.

According to Kazykhanov, who now serves as Assistant to the President for foreign policy, Kazakhstan, in turn, is ready to provide active support to the strengthening of the regional role of UN offices in Almaty and the expansion of their project activities. For instance, Kazakhstan has lifted visa requirements for holders of the UN Laissez-Passers, as well as extended diplomatic accreditation to UN staff members. Moreover, work on renovation of the premises of the UN Office in Almaty is being carried out, as well as the provision of a new building to the UN Office in Astana and the provision of a building to the sub-regional office of UNESCAP in Almaty.

“As the first example of cooperation under the new scheme, we can refer to a joint programme for the development of the Semey (Semipalatinsk) region, for which Kazakhstan has allocated some US$10 million in accordance with an agreement signed last May during the visit of the UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. Last year [2010], we signed agreements on country cooperation programmes for 2010-15 with UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA,” Kazykhanov explained on that occasion.

Almaty has already established itself as one of Central Asia’s largest business, tourism and transportation hubs.

“Kazakhstan today has a thriving economy, governed by consumers, not plans. With material improvements, the city has also developed a well-deserved pride and self-confidence,” said Thomas Mirow, the then-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development at the EBRD annual meeting in Kazakhstan in May 2011.

“We have been developing Almaty as a major business and financial centre, promoting tourism and services,” President Nazarbayev told a meeting of investors earlier this year.

As Kazakhstan’s largest city and its capital at independence in 1991, it was inevitable that those policies would transform Almaty into a major transportation hub and regional centre for visiting foreign businessmen and investors.

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