ASTANA – A top U.S. diplomat began her three day tour of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on April 1 with top-level meetings in the Kazakh capital and a lecture at a university bringing the overriding message of a far away nation being committed to further strengthening bilateral ties and promoting regional cooperation in Central Asia.
Soon after her arrival in Astana, Nisha Biswal, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, met with Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov and discussed implementing the results of talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and President Nursultan Nazarbayev that took place in The Hague on March 25.
The two officials noted with satisfaction the work of the Strategic Partnership Dialogue Commission, as well as of the Commission on Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
Promoting trade and investment cooperation also featured prominently in the talks. Idrissov stressed Kazakhstan’s interest in seeing more active participation by U.S. companies in industrial and innovative development of his country. Since 1993, U.S. companies invested more than $25 billion in the Kazakh economy, mostly in oil and gas. More than 300 joint ventures in key economic sectors work in Kazakhstan. In 2013, trade between Kazakhstan and the United States totaled $2.75 billion, 9% more than in 2012.
Biswal and Idrissov also exchanged views on international and regional security, affairs including the situation in and around Afghanistan and Ukraine.
While in Astana, Biswal also met Prosecutor General Askhat Daulbayev to discuss cooperation in the legal sphere. She also met other senior officials in the presidential office and in the government.
In her lecture to students of the Lev Gumilyov Eurasian National University, the U.S. diplomat focused on promoting security, prosperity and connectivity in the Central Asian region and the shared visions the U.S. and Kazakhstan have in these areas.
“Kazakhstan has a very rich past – the geographic and historical crossroads between East and West,” Biswal told the audience. “But I am most excited when I think about Kazakhstan’s future, and the role you all will play in building that future, whether as captains of industry and commerce, or as politicians or diplomats – you will make our world more secure, more connected, and more prosperous.”
Calling Kazakhstan “a leader in this region” that “has set ambitious goals and is making impressive efforts to demonstrate leadership on the global stage,” Biswal said “the United States has been a strong supporter of Kazakhstan, and its leadership role.”
“As President Obama underscored during in his meeting with President Nazarbayev at the Hague last week, the United States and Kazakhstan have an ambitious agenda together, to seize the opportunities of the 21st century and to address its challenges, whether it’s building an inclusive and open trade architecture in the region, spurring sustainable economic growth, mitigating climate change, or preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” she declared. “We want all this because a strong, independent, and vibrant Kazakhstan will not only strengthen the security and prosperity of the Kazakhstani people, and the broader Central Asian region, but also security and prosperity of the American people.”
Stressing that both the U.S. and Kazakhstan share a vision of a more connected and integrated region, Biswal stressed that “the world can no longer be divided into blocs, or spheres of influence.”
“This globalized world isn’t just a reality to which every nation must adapt, it is also fundamentally in all of our interests, because a more connected and interdependent world is also a more secure and prosperous one,” she said. “It is this principle that underpins America’s rebalance to Asia – the belief that America’s security and prosperity is increasingly linked to the challenges and opportunities facing the emerging economies of Asia, and that we can advance our collective security and prosperity by working together to address common challenges, and in so doing create greater opportunity for all of our people.”
She stressed that Kazakhstan is set to gain the most from making this vision a reality as a country that recognised early on that “for a land-locked country at the heart of Eurasia, geography could be a blessing – or a curse.”
“And you’ve chosen to seize the opportunity, not only to make Kazakhstan the hub of a network of trade and transport that spans from east to west and north to south, but also to make this region, historically among the least integrated into the world, a more connected and prosperous place,” she stressed. “The Kazakhstan of tomorrow is one that will have strong links and growing trade with Europe and Asia; it will provide energy to the teeming markets of India and China; and it will build a knowledge economy that is connected to global knowledge hubs. This is not America’s vision. This is Kazakhstan’s vision. This is what your government and leaders have projected: a diversified, sustainable, modern economy. And it is a vision that America shares, and wants to help usher in, through educational partnerships, through business and trade relations, and through our development programs and partnerships.”
“It’s been said that Kazakhstan has ‘powerful neighbors and distant friends,’” the U.S. diplomat said. “Well, let me be clear: the United States may be distant geographically, but our partnership is growing closer every day, and I’m committed to bringing us even closer together. And one of the best ways we can do that is by creating even more opportunities to bring our brightest minds together.”
Biswal expressed appreciation for Kazakhstan’s Bolashak programme that has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships to educate Kazakh students abroad over the last two decades, including in the United States, in Europe, and in Asia. She also extolled the virtues of more educational exchanges between universities such as Pittsburgh State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke, and the University of Wisconsin and their Kazakh counterparts and people-to-people exchanges.
“Kazakhstan has benefited from this exchange, and I can assure you that whether in the boardroom or the classroom, Americans have also gained from their interaction with the Kazakhstani people. Whether through musical performances of the dombra, or through English-language translations of Olzhas Suleimenov’s poetry, Kazakhstan has enriched American culture and cultural life,” she said.
“Our common recognition of the importance of investing in human capital and the strength of our people-to-people links are two of the essential ingredients in the extraordinary progress that we’ve seen in our partnership,” Biswal noted. “The United States became the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, after which our two nations built a foundation of mutual trust, working together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Through Kazakhstan’s renunciation of its nuclear arsenal – the fourth largest in the world at the time – this new member of the community of nations has earned respect from around the world for its commitment to strengthening global security and respect for international norms. And Kazakhstan’s hosting of the P5+1 talks with Iran twice last year was key to the international community’s efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the issue of Tehran’s nuclear programme. We deeply appreciated Kazakhstan’s role in helping make this breakthrough possible, and we will continue to welcome Kazakhstan’s engagement on difficult but important global challenges.”
The U.S. official called Afghanistan “an outstanding example of Kazakhstan’s growing regional engagement and leadership.”
“Kazakhstan should be proud of its contribution to Afghanistan’s future: Kazakhstan is attracting university students from across Central and South Asia and has committed over $50 million in funding for Afghan men and women to study at Kazakhstani universities,” she said. “That’s just one example of Kazakhstan’s ambitious support for Afghanistan’s security, economic, and political transitions. It has also supported and hosted the Heart of Asia Ministerial in Almaty last year; co-chairing the Istanbul Process Confidence Building Measure on Disaster Management; opening of a trade office in Kabul; and contributed to the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces.”
According to Biswal, the proposed establishment of Kazakhstan Agency for International Development (KazAID) is “more than just a testament to how far Kazakhstan has come in a short period of time.” She said she was confident that KazAID, which still is in the works in Kazakhstan’s bureaucracy, “will make a real impact in Afghanistan and beyond.”
“A core objective underpinning our efforts in Afghanistan is to support a sovereign, independent, stable, and secure country that has good relations with all of its neighbors, and is able to provide opportunity for its people. That is also what we want for the countries of the region. This basic but vital notion – that states make decisions not at the expense of their neighbors, and do not re-draw borders through the use of force, simply because they are larger or more powerful – this notion must be the very foundation for respectful and mutually beneficial relationships between states in the 21st century,” Biswal said making a bridge to her comments on the situation regarding Ukraine.
“Today, the world is watching events in Ukraine with grave concern. The United States and the international community are committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and helping the Ukrainian people build the stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous country that they deserve,” she stressed. “We believe that the only way to resolve the crisis in Ukraine is through diplomacy and de-escalation of military tensions. We will continue to work with the United Nations, with our European partners, with the OSCE, as well as Russia, to find a peaceful path that upholds the international law and norms. We believe that the people of Ukraine, like the other peoples of this region, should not have to choose between friendly relations with Russia and broad ties to the rest of the world. As President Obama has said, ‘we want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny – to have good relations with the United States, with Russia, with Europe, and with anyone else that they choose.’”
“We also want that for Kazakhstan, for Central Asia, and for all of our partners around the world,” the U.S. official concluded.