ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov has called the trip by British Prime Minister David Cameron to Kazakhstan on June 30 – July 1 a “milestone visit” and said the country welcomed wider British involvement in its development.
Speaking during a teleconference with British journalists ahead of the visit, Idrissov said the its agenda was set to include energy and trade, regional security and Afghanistan post-2014, as well as democracy building.
On June 30, President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomed Prime Minister Cameron in Atyrau, in the western oil-rich region of Kazakhstan, as the two leaders participated in the launch of the Bolashak (Future) production facility to serve the Kashagan offshore oil field.
“The Kashagan oil field which will run into the commissioning stage with the arrival of Prime Minister Cameron is one of the world’s largest oil fields. It has a great significance for the oil supply to global markets from the
non-OPEC world,” Idrissov told a group of journalists, which also included a reporter for The Astana Times, over the phone last week. “Another significance of this project is that it is a concerted effort by the international consortium of major oil companies of the world from the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan. And that will make a really imporant contribution to the global energy security.”
According to the foreign minister, the first commercial oil from Kashagan, developed by an international consortium which includes Royal Dutch Shell among others, “is expected to come along later in the year.”
Alongside Prime Minister Cameron, a big group of British business people are visiting Kazakhstan.
“We will have a number of business events during the visit both in western Kazakhstan and in Astana,” Idrissov shared. “During those events, we expect 13 commercial agreements to be signed. I cannot give you the figure of the value of those contracts, but they are quite significant. They cover not only the energy and mineral sector, but they also cover transport, infrastucture and communications sectors.” The UK is already one of the largest investors in Kazakhstan.
One of the more important political documents to be signed, according to Erlan Idrissov, by President Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Cameron is “a joint statement on the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom, which is an important framework document which highlights the priority areas of our cooperation in security, investment and other areas.”
Security in Central Asia, and the cooperation of the two countries regarding Afghanistan were also to feature prominently on the agenda for the visit, according to Erlan Idrissov.
“Afghanistan is an important item on our bilateral agenda because Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom do care about regional stability and security in our part of the world,” he said. “And I think Afghanistan will continue to be an important agenda item in the post-2014 situation for both countries.”
“Right from the very beginning of the coalition efforts in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan has come out without any hesitation in support of the coalition and provided air traffic and, later on, land traffic into Afghanistan,” Idrissov said. “Similarly, Kazakhstan is committing itself to providing support to the coalition forces when they exit Afghanistan, both by air and land, through multimodal ways.”
“Kazakhstan has ratified the agreement between our two countries on the air transit [out of Afghanistan],” he added. “The bilateral agreement on the rail transit is under negotiations, and we hope to complete it very soon.”
Idrissov was also asked about the situation with democracy building and human rights in Kazakhstan.
“We are a young nation so we are making our first steps. We do hear critisisms, and we do not feel absolutely unhappy about those criticisms. We patiently explain to our partners that we are not today a Jeffersonian democracy, and that the Jeffersonian democracy is our ultimate destination,” he said.
“Different organizations including Human Rights Watch are free to express their own opinions which is not the ultimate truth. We recommend to those critics and other people to come and see real life in Kazakhstan. And you will discover that we are a burgeoning economy, a thriving society and a developing democracy,” Idrissov continued.
“All institutions of the civil society are very active. Human rights is one of the important topics on our development agenda,” he said. “We are doing many things in this area not to please anyone in the West… We simply understand that to become a fully fledged developed society and nation we have to do a lot of things to promote economic and political growth.”
“Therefore, it is a work in process. We do have a very meaningful cooperation with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House,” the foreign minister said. “They have their presence in Kazakhstan. We do keep different dialogue platforms. We want to keep our ears open to what they think and say and we also ask them to open up their eyes wider to see great achievements which Kazakhstan has been able to achieve within a very short period of time since our independence.”
The foreign minister went on to explain Astana’s overall vision of its relationship with London.
“We are a growing nation, we have very ambitious plans for growth. And we also understand that those ambitious plans will not come through unless we strike meaningful partnerships with countries like the United Kingdom,” he said. “Therefore, your Prime Minister and, along with him, many companies and the public of the United Kingdom are welcome to developing lines of cooperation with Kazakhstan.”
“We are an open society,” Idrissov noted. “By nature, being nomads, we are open to four sides of the wind. We take up new concepts willingly. We want to engage in a dialogue, we want to engage in friendly partnerships.”