- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Kazakh style

The president of Kazakhstan yesterday dismissed critics who call his government corrupt and authoritarian.
Nursultan Nazarbayev insisted his former Soviet republic is democratic, at least by the standards of Kazakhstan.
"We need democracy because that is our future. We are building on it," he told reporters in Washington. "We don't need any pastors to teach us. We are going to build democracy, keeping in mind our mentality and heritage."
He sat in an elegant room with red brocade wallpaper and antique furnishings in Blair House, the presidential guest house, after an hourlong meeting with President Clinton. The meeting was scheduled to last only 20 minutes.
The issue of human rights never came up in his talks with Mr. Clinton.
The reason was easy to understand.
Mr. Nazarbayev addressed reporters as he sat before charts showing the vast natural wealth of his country. Its current oil reserves are 35 billion barrels, twice as much as the North Sea. Its potential reserves could be 110 billion barrels, which would make it the third largest in the world.
He noted that human rights observers of the country's parliamentary elections in October criticized the voting practices for failing to meet international standards.
"I'm willing to accept that," Mr. Nazarbayev said.
However, he insisted his government should be applauded for the reforms it has made since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mr. Nazarbayev said he promised democratic elections for parliament, laws to strengthen political parties, press freedom and a campaign against corruption.
"I introduced this. No one had to push me into it," he said.
"We deserve at least support for the reforms from the West," he added.
The State Department human rights report tells another story. Running 14 pages in the 1998 report, the section on Kazakhstan is one of the lengthier indictments of a government's intolerance of political and religious rights, press freedom and an independent judiciary.
The State Department criticized Mr. Nazarbayev's re-election for voting irregularities. It said the government "closed or otherwise harassed much of the independent media" and that "all daily newspapers are government-run.
"The lack of an independent judiciary made it difficult to root out corruption, which was pervasive throughout the government," the report said.
Kazakhstan, nevertheless, continues to attract powerful friends.
At a ceremony in Blair House, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat, praised Mr. Nazarbayev for destroying Kazakhstan's arsenal of 1,040 nuclear weapons inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Your leadership set an example for the world," Mr. Nunn said. "We wish you well in your movement toward democracy and a market economy."

Progress on sea border

The foreign ministers of Honduras and Nicaragua have agreed to meet in Miami next week to begin talks to defuse a border crisis that brought the countries close to armed conflict.
The progress is the result of mediation efforts by the retired U.S. diplomat, Luigi Einaudi, who is acting as a special envoy for the Organization of American States.
"The focus of the talks next week will be mechanisms to prevent unintended clashes, pending a decision on the maritime boundary by the International Court of Justice," Mr. Einaudi said in a statement yesterday.
"The willingness of both governments to talk underscores the commitment they have made to advance their claims peacefully and within the established norms of international law."
The dispute erupted earlier this month when Honduras recognized Colombia's claim to 50,000 square miles of Atlantic coastal water that is also claimed by Nicaragua.
Honduras and Nicaragua suspected each other of moving troops toward their common border, which prompted the OAS to dispatch Mr. Einaudi, a former U.S. ambassador to the OAS.

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