ASTANA – Jordan and Kazakhstan have enjoyed strong diplomatic relations for over three decades, yet there is significant untapped potential, according to the country’s Ambassador in Astana Yousef Abdelghani. Abdelghani, who has been on his mission to Kazakhstan since 2019, sat down for an interview with The Astana Times to discuss the current state of bilateral ties and the areas where cooperation is being strengthened as the two countries mark 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1993.
Both countries opened their embassies in respective capitals and began work in 2007. Since then, the two countries have been strengthening their economic, cultural, and political ties. Multiple high-level visits of first President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Jordan and King Abdullah II to Kazakhstan were a key driving force behind the strong relations.
According to Abdelghani, the relationship between Jordan and Kazakhstan has been growing steadily in recent years, with both countries exploring new opportunities for collaboration.
“Our bilateral relations are strong and solid. Recently the two countries celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. His Majesty King Abdullah ll and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev exchanged congratulatory letters on this occasion and they also held a telephone conversation to strengthen the brotherly ties between the two countries and exchange views. The two leaders met twice in New York and agreed to prioritize the development of bilateral relations between our countries. His Majesty the King visited Kazakhstan seven times, sustaining the importance that Jordan attaches to its relations with Kazakhstan,” said Abdelghani.
Trade “below the level of ambition”
Kazakhstan is a leading economy in Central Asia, with abundant natural resources and a strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Jordan is also strategically located in the heart of the Middle East and has a strong industrial and service sector.
However, trade and investment are “below the level of ambition,” said Abdelghani. According to the Kazakh National Bureau of Statistics, bilateral trade reached $1.4 million in 2022.
“There are many reasons for this. Perhaps, the most prominent of those is the high costs of freight and transportation, as well as the lack of direct flights between the two countries and the geopolitical situation in the region. The pandemic also affected us, as we had to reschedule most important meetings,” said Abdelghani.
The ambassador underlined textiles and pharmaceuticals as promising areas.
“We can exchange expertise with Kazakhstan to create joint ventures in these two major areas. We can also do that in the green energy sphere. Jordan is very developed [in green energy]. We generate a fifth of our electricity from green energy resources,” he said.
Abdelghani hopes for more agreements in the field of trade, economy and investments, high-level official visits and meetings between officials and private sectors, and convening the postponed meetings. It will help “boost trade exchanges to new levels,” he added.
The ambassador highlighted that Kazakhstan and Jordan have many bilateral agreements covering most fields of cooperation.
A joint governmental committee and a joint business council are expected to hold their sixth meeting in Amman in the second half of this year. There is also a political consultation committee that has held two meetings so far. The next meeting is expected to be held in the second half of this year in Astana.
Kazakhstan and Jordan are like-minded countries
He reiterated the two countries are like-minded, emphasizing that Kazakhstan is a major and reliable ally to Jordan in the region.
“We are keen to maintain strong and steady relations with Kazakhstan, and both countries are committed to implementing democratic, economic and social reforms,” he added.
The two countries share similarities in history, culture, open economy, and moderate and balanced foreign policy.
“We have common positions on regional and international political issues, such as the Palestinian issue. Kazakhstan supports the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Kazakhstan also supports the Hashemite custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in the Holy City. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan recently issued a statement expressing concern over the escalation of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque. This tension was caused by the Israeli occupation forces who beat the worshipers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and restricted the worshipers’ entry to the mosque in a measure aimed at changing the historical status quo of the mosque and the Holy City, and this contradicts international law and Israel’s international obligations as an occupying power,” said Abdelghani.
Kazakhstan’s international initiatives
The ambassador emphasized Jordan’s support for Kazakhstan’s international initiatives, including the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, and the nation’s nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.
“Jordan also supports Syrian talks as part of the Astana process, of which Kazakhstan has hosted 17 rounds so far. Jordan actively participated in all these 17 rounds, which had a positive impact in reducing violence in the cities and villages of southern Syria, close to our northern border. Jordan is also considering joining the Islamic Organization for Food Security (IOFS), which is an important initiative of Kazakhstan,” said Abdelghani.
Tourism and education
The ambassador is optimistic about the potential for increased tourism and noted interest from both sides. Jordan is home to several historical and cultural sites, including Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Kazakhstan is known for its stunning natural landscapes and centuries-old mausoleums and monuments.
The ambassador expressed hope that increased collaboration in the tourism sector would enable more tourists from Kazakhstan to visit Jordan and vice versa.
“Regarding visas, we have an agreement for mutual exemption from visas for diplomatic passports. Our laws give authority to the competent ministry to grant visas for citizens of any country upon their arrival at the border, and without the need for prior approval, and as of the current year, the principle of reciprocity will be applied with all countries of the world with regard to granting visas. Recently, the Jordanian Ministry of Interior launched the electronic visa project, which aims to facilitate the entry of travelers from all over the world, including Kazakhstan, to Jordan through border posts without the need to visit embassies,” he said.
The work to launch direct flights, however, is still ongoing. Abdelghani explained that they are trying to convince commercial airlines to charter flights by offering incentives, including those given by Jordan Tourism Board and Aqaba King Hussein Airport.
These incentives include $60 for each passenger, 50 percent support for an advertising campaign from the tourism board, and a 50 percent discount on landing fees from the King Hussein Airport.
“There are currently 15 operators in Aqaba taking advantage of these incentives. All these steps will increase the flow of labor, tourists and investors in both directions. Both countries should work hard to establish direct flights,” he added.
Cultural similarities between the two countries, he noted, provide a strong foundation for increased cultural exchange and collaboration.
“Some institutions in Jordan bear the name of the famous Kazakh scholar Abu Nasr al-Farabi who is also famous in the Arab world. Lately, lots of events have taken place in Jordan to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the famous [Kazakh] poet Abai. These events included naming a street after him and a section in one of the libraries in one of the universities,” he said.
Abdelghani also spoke about Sultan Baybars’ heritage that the two nations share.
“There are many castles and forts that were either built or fortified by Mamluks who ruled our country for more than 250 years, and it is worth mentioning that Sultan Zahir Baybars is famous in Jordan for his role in defeating the Mongols in 1260 AD in Ain Jalut battle. Kazakhstan will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the birth of Sultan Zahir Baybars this year,” he said.
Another area of growing cooperation between Jordan and Kazakhstan is education. Nearly 500 Jordanian students are studying at four universities in Kazakhstan.
“We also have a number of Jordanian business people who invest in Kazakhstan, and our Jordanian community is estimated to be about 1,000 people. We have many cases of mixed marriages,” he added.