- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

For some inexplicable reason the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been invited to visit Washington this month by the Clinton-Gore administration.

Mr. Nazarbayev is the same dictator who over the past eight years has created a monopoly of riches for himself, his family and carefully selected friends. He has also lured many investors to his country and then pillaged their assets for himself, his family and a few cronies. Knowledgeable sources say that he is the eighth richest man in the world. This, in a country where the per capita income is well below the poverty level.

Mr. Nazarbayev is the same person who promised Vice President Gore a year ago that he would permit a fair and free presidential election in January 1999 and then rigged the disqualification of his main opponent, thereby eliminating any chance of defeat and ensuring the perpetuation of his corrupt regime. Mr. Nazarbayev is also the same person who has had $85 million in ill-gotten gains frozen by the judiciary in Switzerland. Mr. Nazarbayev is the same individual who ordered the destruction of printing presses used to print newspapers questioning his policies.

And Mr. Nazarbayev’s record on human rights is anything but outstanding. There is, quite simply, no freedom of the press, no independent judiciary and no freedom of assembly that could threaten Mr. Nazarbayev’s one-man, one-family rule in Kazakhstan.

In spite of all the above, Kazakhstan still receives millions of dollars in foreign assistance from U.S. taxpayers and hundreds of millions more indirectly through the Export-Import Bank and international financial institutions in which the United States is a major contributor. Is it not just about time that we let dictators like Mr. Nazarbayev know that we are not going to accept this type of behavior? Is it not past time for us to be taken as fools who don’t care about how a country’s ruler treats his people and foreign investors? Is Kazakhstan’s oil so important to us that we would sacrifice basic principles by inviting dictators to dine with our president and vice president? Don’t we ever learn lessons from past mistakes? Doesn’t anyone in the administration remember how in Indonesia President Suharto’s greed, nepotism and general misrule led to his downfall and plunged the country into near chaos? Tolerance of corrupt rule does not contribute to stability. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Have we also learned nothing by cozying up to Victor Chernomyrdin in Russia? Certainly, none of these examples are ancient history.

Surely, this administration does not want to assist in the perpetuation of a regime in Kazakhstan that is the antithesis of all that we stand for as Americans. Both the president and vice president should make it unmistakably clear that the status quo in Kazakhstan is unacceptable.

On Nov. 17, former Prime Minister Akhezan Kazhegeldin, who was prevented from running against Mr. Nazarbayev last January and now heads the leading opposition party (although living in exile in Western Europe), proposed that a national dialogue be launched with a view toward reforming the political and economic system in Kazakhstan and holding free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. Similar national dialogues were successful in Poland and South Africa, and convening one for Kazakhstan could set the pattern for reform throughout the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore should emphasize to Mr. Nazarbayev that close cooperation between our two countries depends on his agreement to participate in a national dialogue. They should also insist that in order for a national dialogue to be credible, it must be held outside Kazakhstan and should be organized and monitored with the assistance of respected organizations such as the Council of Europe or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore should make support for political and economic reform the centerpiece of their discussions with Mr. Nazarbayev. That is the very least this administration should do at this point, and that is not an unreasonable expectation on the part of the United States.

Thomas B. Evans, Jr. is a former Republican Congressman from Delaware. He is now chairman of the consulting firm The Evans Group, Ltd.

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