First Visit of U.S. Secretary of State to Kazakhstan Took Place 30 Years Ago

The first visit by US Secretary of State to Kazakhstan Mr. James Baker, took place thirty years ago, on September 15-16, 1991. In many respects, it laid the foundations of the constructive and equal cooperation between the two states.

Mr. Baker arrived in Alma-Ata from St. Petersburg with his wife Susan, accompanied by US Ambassador to the USSR Robert Strauss, State Department Director of Policy Planning Dennis Ross, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Margaret Tutwiler, Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, Principal Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Defense Lewis Libby, Special Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs and Senior Director of Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council Ed A. Hewitt, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in the USSR James Collins, and other officials.

The preparation for the stay of the US Secretary of State in Alma-Ata was entrusted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR, which I then headed. On the eve of the visit, the ministry assisted the staff of the US Embassy in the USSR, led by W. Downey, who arrived in Alma-Ata on September 9, in resolving a number of issues related to the preparation of the Secretary of State’s visit.

US Secretary of State to Kazakhstan James Baker emphasized that the position of the President and the leadership of Kazakhstan in relation to the USSR inspires confidence in the American side. He spoke in favor of the development of cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would be preserved within a certain organizational framework, and with its constituent republics.

Upon their arrival on September 15, James and Susan Baker were invited by Nursultan and Sara Nazarbayev to be their personal guests. A private conversation took place between the President of Kazakhstan and the US Secretary of State, during which they discussed the political and economic situation in the USSR and topical problems of international relations.

On the morning of September 16, Mr. Baker met with the country’s most senior officials. President Nazarbayev, having introduced the officials present from our side, briefed the guest about the economic situation in Kazakhstan, its rich natural resources and industrial potential, the creation of the foundations of a market economy, and legislation in the field of foreign economic activity. As per my notes made during the conversation, he said that “we are not asking for any loans or assistance, let American businesspeople come to the country and begin to work with us on a mutually beneficial basis.” Kazakhstan’s leader added that in his letter to President George W. Bush he proposed to establish direct cooperation with the United States, create a US investment fund in the country as per the example of some Eastern European countries, and open a US office in Almaty and our office in the US. He also asked for support from the American side to Kazakhstan in entering international political and financial organizations and in providing technical assistance and training of our specialists in market economy management and market entry.

During the short visit, the US Secretary of State visited the Medeo complex and got acquainted with the sights of Almaty. Mrs. S. Baker visited the Central State Museum and the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments as part of a separate program.

In response, Mr. Baker, as per my notes, thanked the President for the evening and for the conversation the day before, which made it possible to establish personal ties between them, as well as for a detailed brief about the economic opportunities of Kazakhstan. He stated that he regards President Nazarbayev as one of the most progressive leaders in the Soviet Union, and that their conversation once again demonstrated the clear position of the Kazakh leader regarding political and economic transformations in the country.

Mr. Baker noted that the United States would be inclined to cooperate with those republics of the Soviet Union that support the five principles of the Helsinki Final Act. At that time, the United States carried out several training and technical assistance programs in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In order to receive such programs, it was important for the states to have concrete plans for economic reforms and economic levers for a market economy, which would help them to cooperate with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Baker emphasized that the position of the President and the leadership of Kazakhstan in relation to the USSR inspires confidence in the American side. He spoke in favor of the development of cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would be preserved within a certain organizational framework, and with its constituent republics. He expressed his satisfaction with the visit to Kazakhstan and hope for a fruitful continuation of personal ties with its leader.

After the official discussions, a joint press conference of Mr. Nazarbayev and Mr. Baker took place for Soviet and foreign journalists.

During the short visit, the US Secretary of State visited the Medeo complex and got acquainted with the sights of Almaty. Mrs. S. Baker visited the Central State Museum and the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments as part of a separate program.

Following the visit, Mr. Baker sent a letter to President Nazarbayev, in which he expressed his sincere gratitude for the hospitality and the opportunity to discuss the most important issues of mutual interest. He noted that Almaty was a very beautiful city, and the mountains reminded him of the landscape of the surroundings of his home in Wyoming. He also expressed hope that he could come to Kazakhstan again.

According to the documents from my personal archive, during his visit to the USSR on September 9-16, 1991, Mr. Baker met with the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Boris Yeltsin, Eduard Shevardnadze, as well as with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR Boris Pankin and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR Andrei Kozyrev, Minister of Defense of the USSR Yevgeny Shaposhnikov and other senior figures. He visited St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius, as well as Kazakhstan.

My first meeting with the US Secretary of State took place on the instructions of President Nazarbayev in Moscow on September 11, 1991. Mr. Baker invited the ministers of foreign affairs of the Soviet Union republics to a meeting to discuss issues of our cooperation. Following the general position of the President, I noted that Kazakhstan, possessing significant economic and natural potential and an appropriate legislative base, does not require assistance, but equal cooperation with the United States, an inflow of American investments into the economy of the country, and facilitation in training personnel for accelerated entry into a market economy. Mr. Baker seems to have noted my words, as he spoke positively about my statement during a conversation with President Nazarbayev in Alma-Ata.

In continuation of the agreements reached in Kazakhstan, a visit of the staff of the US Embassy to the USSR, headed by R. Austin, Counsel for Administrative Affairs, took place at the beginning of November 1991. In a conversation with the Government of the Kazakh SSR, American diplomats presented specific proposals for the opening of a US consulate in Alma-Ata headed by the Consul General (consisting of 5 Americans and 8 local staff), which would become the first American consulate in the non-European part of the USSR. At that time, US consulates were in St. Petersburg and Kiev. R. Austin said that the question of whether it will be a Consulate General or a consulate is being decided in Washington. In any case, it would help to establish a link between the US Government and Kazakhstan, deal with political issues and assistance to the Americans in the country, and in the future, potentially deal with visa issues, he said. To our question regarding the accreditation of the consulate, the diplomat said that it would be accredited at the USSR Foreign Ministry. The American side did not support our wish for accreditation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR or double accreditation, stating that this issue of relations between the Center of the Soviet Union and the Union republics should be decided by them themselves.

On December 1, 1991, the first nationwide election of the President of Kazakhstan was held, and on December 10, a ceremony of inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev took place. On December 10, the name “Republic of Kazakhstan” was adopted by the Law “On changing the name of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic”.

On December 16, the Supreme Council adopted the Constitutional Law “On the State Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

The second visit of US Secretary of State James Baker to Kazakhstan took place on December 17, 1991. He was accompanied by US Ambassador to the USSR Robert Strauss, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Reginald Bartholomew, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Thomas Niles, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Margaret Tutwiler, Director for Policy Planning Dennis Ross, Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Stephen Hadley, Senior Director of Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council Ed A. Hewitt, and other officials.

Due to bad weather, the plane landed late on the night of December 18. The distinguished guest then travelled to the residence to meet with President Nazarbayev. Initially, the discussions were held in an expanded format between the delegations, at which a set of issues related to new realities in the world, the proclamation of state independence by Kazakhstan and other union republics, as well as the prospects for bilateral cooperation were discussed. During the conversation, as per the instructions of the President, I confirmed with the American side President Nazarbayev’s visit to the United States in early 1992.

A private conversation then took place between Mr. Nazarbayev and Mr. Baker, followed by a press conference for representatives of the Kazakh and foreign media. According to press reports, the Kazakh President announced a meeting of the leaders of the former Soviet republics scheduled for December 21 in Alma-Ata to resolve a number of issues, including the Soviet nuclear weapons deployed in four republics. The US Secretary of State said that at the meeting with President Nazarbayev the nuclear problem was discussed in detail and Kazakhstan and its leader were playing a key role in resolving this issue. He added that the United States is considering the issue of recognizing the independence of Kazakhstan and other former USSR states, which would be resolved by the American side based on relevant requests and in accordance with the principles adopted in the United States.

Meanwhile, on the morning of December 18, on the instructions of President Nazarbayev, I flew through Moscow to New York to establish cooperation between Kazakhstan and the UN. I was appointed to the post of Senior Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of the USSR to the UN, with an addition, at my request, of the title of the Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan. At the talks in Alma-Ata, President Nazarbayev informed Mr. Baker that he was sending me to New York and that I would also be his representative to the US Administration. The Secretary of State welcomed this decision and promised to provide support and assistance, which he did.

In New York, some were surprised to see me, as they had recently seen me on television at the Alma-Ata airport next to Secretary of State Baker.

For three days I worked in the Soviet diplomatic mission to the UN, which on December 24, 1991, in accordance with the decision of the Alma-Ata meeting of heads of independent states, became the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN. On the same day, Russia took the place of the USSR in the UN Security Council, and the new sovereign states, as decided at the Alma-Ata meeting, began preparations for their entry into the UN membership.

On the evening of December 24, I informed the President about the documents required for Kazakhstan’s accession to the UN, asking to send them by December 31. In the morning of that day, I received by fax the application of the Republic of Kazakhstan on joining the UN signed by President Nazarbayev and immediately forwarded it to the office of the UN Secretary General, who sent it to all Member States on January 3, 1992.

In accordance with the rules of procedure, at a meeting on January 23, 1992, the Security Council recommended to the General Assembly to admit Kazakhstan as a UN member. On the historic day of March 2, 1992, at the plenary session of the 46th session, the General Assembly unanimously accepted the new independent state of the Republic of Kazakhstan as a Member State of the United Nations.

In preparation for joining the UN in early January of that year, one of the first ambassadors I met was the US Ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering. He stated that he had received instructions from Mr. Baker to provide the most active support and assistance to Kazakhstan’s entry into the UN. The Ambassador noted that this position of the United States had been brought to the attention of the members of the Security Council and that the American side will take measures to expedite consideration of the issue in this main body of the UN. He also stressed that the Secretary of State appreciated the outcomes of his visits to Alma-Ata, the results of negotiations with President Nazarbayev and conveyed the State Department’s request to the leadership of Kazakhstan of assistance in opening the US Embassy in Alma-Ata.

For my part, I asked the Ambassador’s assistance in preparing the visit of the President of Kazakhstan to the United States and his meetings with officials in Washington, which he did in the process of our engagement during the preparation of the visit.

A little later, I met member of Mr. Baker’s delegation, who accompanied him in Alma-Ata, John Shalikashvili. In 1993, he became the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff with the rank of a four-star general, and when he came up to me at one of the events in New York, he warmly recalled his trips to Kazakhstan with the Secretary of State.

The first visit of President Nazarbayev to the United States, to which the American side gave the highest status of a state visit, took place on May 18–20, 1992. He held talks with US President George W. Bush at the White House and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Kazakhstan and the United States, an Agreement on Trade Relations and a number of other important bilateral documents. The President of Kazakhstan met with Secretary of State James Baker, several ministers, members of the US Congress and heads of major American corporations. As a result of the visit, solid foundations were laid for long-term and dynamic Kazakh-American cooperation in political, economic, scientific-technical, and other spheres, which brought our bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership.

The current President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, made a significant contribution in the first decade of our independence to the practical implementation of the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s policy to strengthen interaction and cooperation with the United States, as well as with our other international partners, as the independent Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The importance of this cooperation was highlighted in the recent letter of the US President Joseph R. Biden to President Tokayev. The American leader emphasized “the United States of America is proud to call your country a friend, and I look forward to working with you to bring the full potential of our partnership to fruition.”

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the United States, we recall with appreciation that the foundations of an equal and mutually respectful strategic partnership between our countries were laid by the first visits of US Secretary of State James Baker to Kazakhstan in the second half of 1991.

The author is Akmaral Arystanbekova, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR and the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1989-1991. 

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