WASHINGTON, DC – Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov visited the United States on Dec. 10-11 to meet with top American officials to advance bilateral relations and discuss challenges on the global agenda.
On Dec. 10, Idrissov and Secretary of State John Kerry co-chaired the third annual meeting of the bilateral Strategic Partnership Dialogue, which covered a broad range of issues of Kazakhstan-U.S. cooperation.
“I am very proud that today we will have the third meeting of our Strategic Partnership Dialogue with Secretary Kerry and I coming here to confirm our strong desire to further cement the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States and take it to the future,” stated Idrissov prior to a Dec. 10 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“We’re very grateful for Kazakhstan’s engagement with us on a number of issues – nonproliferation, issues of Afghanistan, trade, development,” Kerry said. “And I think it’s fair to say that in the region the relationship between the United States and Kazakhstan is really one of the most consequential for us, and we’re very grateful for the leadership that Kazakhstan has been showing,” he added.
The Strategic Partnership Dialogue is currently the only mechanism of such type in the relations between the Central Asian states and Washington that provides a platform for Kazakhstan and the U.S. to maintain a dialogue on bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation.
Before the meeting, the parties took an opportunity to stress the productive cooperation existing between Kazakhstan and the U.S., as the nations joined efforts to work on the challenge of the so called “Islamic State”, counterterrorism, nonproliferation and issues of Afghanistan. In respect to the ambiguous prospects of the developing situation in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Kerry particularly underlined the significance of Kazakhstan’s initiative to implement an education programme for 1,000 Afghan students, which became “a critical component of capacity building for Afghanistan and of stability.”
During the talks, Kerry commended the gradually-developing strategic partnership between the countries and balanced foreign policy of Kazakhstan. He confirmed U.S. support for Kazakh initiatives, including participation in the international exhibition EXPO 2017, as well as promoting Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO.
Idrissov underlined that in the context of regional security, Astana was committed to Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy and called for all international actors to move past the “big game” approach and adopt the “big gain” approach to benefit all involved.
Idrissov and Kerry alsodiscussed pressing international issues, including the fight againstterrorism, countering theso-calledIslamic Stateandthe critical situation in Ukraine.
Idrissov confirmed Kazakhstan’s steadfast commitment against terrorism and extremism, as well as the unacceptability of using religion as a cover for terrorist actions. Referring to Ukraine, he expressed deep concern about the ongoing conflict in that country, which resulted in a large number of casualties and affected international relations, with Western states and Russia implementing reciprocal sanctions. He highlighted the importance of an early end to the armed confrontation in Ukraine and of resolving conflicts by peaceful means through negotiations, including on the basis of the Minsk agreements agreed to in September.
A joint statement was adopted at the end of the meeting. The document outlined Kazakh and U.S. positions on a number of issues, including partnerships on global issues, non-proliferation, democracy, human rights and development, trade, investment and energy, Afghanistan and regional integration, cooperation on security and law enforcement, military cooperation, education, partnerships in science and technology, humanitarian aid and development assistance and EXPO 2017.
During the visit, Idrissov also held a series of meetings with officials from the U.S. National Security Council, Department of Energy and Department of Commerce.
At a White House meeting with U.S. National SecurityAdvisorSusan Rice, the two touched upon strengthening regional stabilityand sustainable development. Riceemphasised thepositive roleof Kazakhstanin expandingeconomic activity andstrengthening cooperation in theCentral Asian region.
At a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews and Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the parties discussed further intensification of trade and investment and energy cooperation. In particular, Andrews confirmed U.S. interest in cooperation to increase the investment attractiveness of Kazakhstan and expand the presence of American business in the state. He stated that proposed large-scale infrastructure projects in accordance with the new Nurly Zhol economic policy announced by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev were a testament to the strategic vision of Kazakhstan’s President and were very positively perceived by American business.
The meeting with Sherwood-Randall focused on bilateral cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and strengthening the non-proliferation regime. Idrissov and Sherwood-Randall stressed the importance of the bilateral energy commission, which covered a wide range of issues from oil and nuclear power to renewable energy sources. The parties emphasised the importance of the timely completion of the negotiations and signing of an agreement between Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the establishment of a low-enriched uranium fuel bank.
During his stay in the U.S., Idrissov also served as the keynote speaker at the opening of the second Kazakhstan-American Convention, “Working Together for a Secure Future.” The event was attended by the heads of various departments, more than 30 members of Congress, executives of leading U.S. companies, representatives of think tanks and the media.
Addressing the audience, Idrissov elaborated on Kazakh foreign policy priorities to promote peace and security in the region and the world, measures taken to ensure the economic development of the country and its neighbours and the nation’s industrial and innovative growth amid economic crisis and global recession.
In his speech, he said, “There is a long way to go before our country can join the ranks of the most developed nations but we are starting from a strong position. We have made great progress since our independence in 1991. Our vibrant market economy has grown twenty-fold. For the past decade, we have been the fastest growing nation in the region and are now the economic powerhouse in Central Asia.”
He stated that to address external economic challenges Kazakhstan planned to use the National Fund, consisting of the revenues from extractive industries collected over the past years. “We will now use funds from it to further transform our economy – develop transport, energy, industrial and social infrastructure, and empower our small and medium businesses,” he added.
At the same time, he emphasised that the state was determined to accept its responsibility as an international actor, particularly to promote a settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. In this respect, the government of Kazakhstan allocated $2.38 million for the construction of social infrastructure in Afghanistan and more than $17 million for emergency food assistance. To promote its integration into regional structures, Kazakhstan initiated the convening of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which it will seek to transform into the Organisation for Security and Development in Asia.
In his remarks, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Richard E. Hoagland commended Kazakhstan’s leading role in the nonproliferation movement. He stressed that “Kazakhstan has been, and continues to be, a leader in this [nonproliferation and arms control] field, both seen in past efforts such as Project Sapphire and the relinquishing of their nuclear arsenal, as well as in current efforts, including establishing a regional Nuclear Security Training centere and offering to host the IAEA low-enriched uranium fuel bank. … Kazakhstan’s hosting of the P5+1 talks on Iran in 2013 was instrumental in the international community’s efforts to reach a diplomatic solution on the Iranian nuclear programme. Through these and other nonproliferation efforts, Kazakhstan has made tremendous contributions to international security.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, one of the keynote speakers, stated that Kazakhstan played an important role in the region and that sustainable development in Central Asia was possible only through closer cooperation within the region, primarily in the economic sphere.
DeputyAdministrator for National Nuclear Security Administration Anne Harrington and former Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman elaborated on the historical importance of Kazakh-U.S. cooperation in the field of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including within the Joint Commission on Energy Partnership and highlighted the importance of Project Sapphire, a formerly secret 1994 Kazakhstan-U.S. operation to remove and down-blend around 600 kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium.
Andrew Kuchins, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, emphasised Kazakhstan’s key role in the development of transport corridors and transcontinental trade relations in Eurasia, calling the nation “an important partner” for the development of the New Silk Road.
The Kazakhstan foreign minister also participated in the roundtable organised by the U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association on Dec.11. The event was attended by such companies as AES Corporation, AGCO, Bechtel, Boeing, Cashman Equipment Corp., Chevron Corporation, Deere & Company, Eli Lilly, Fluor Corporation, Inc. and others.
Idrissov informed the gathering about the large-scale measures undertaken by the government of Kazakhstan to improve the investment climate, presented in detail legislative and other innovations, including tax incentives for foreign investors, the establishment of the Investment Ombudsman, the introduction of a visa-free regime for citizens of 10 countries that are the leading economic partners of Kazakhstan.
US businessmen expressed interest in expanding cooperation with Kazakhstan in light of the implementation of the Nurly Zhol policy, forthcoming accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), preparations for the international specialised exhibition EXPO 2017 and entry into force of the treaty on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on Jan.1, 2015.
Idrissov highlighted Kazakhstan’s efforts to establish “all the necessary conditions to encourage joint partnerships.” He said that Kazakhstan had “a liberal market economy, favourable tax and customs regimes, one of the best investment incentives in the region and improving legislation aimed at providing protection of investors’ rights. As a result, the volume of American foreign direct investment (FDI) in Kazakhstan in the first half of 2014 was $2.3 billion, almost twice the level of the same period in 2013. Most American FDI goes to the mining industry, real estate and business services, financial sector and processing industry.”
Briefing the roundtable participants on plans to develop a green economy, the foreign minister drew attention to the preferences granted to companies working in the field of alternative energy and using energy-efficient technologies, presenting Kazakhstan as a platform for implementation of investment projects with further access to the markets of the EEU and Central Asia.