- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

‘Landmark’ visit

The Kazakh ambassador yesterday heralded the news that Vice President Dick Cheney will visit his central Asian country as a demonstration of the “special priority” Washington places in the relationship with Kazakhstan.

Mr. Cheney, who will visit the energy-rich country next month, will be the fourth U.S. Cabinet official to travel to Kazakhstan since Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice in October.

“Vice President Cheney’s upcoming visit is a landmark event demonstrating a special priority of relations with Kazakhstan for the United States and recognition of our leadership in economic and political reforms in Central Asia,” Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev said.

“We are hopeful the upcoming meetings in [the capital] Astana will give a new, important boost to further strengthening of our strategic partnership, both in bilateral and multilateral dimensions.”

The United States values Kazakhstan for its strategic location in Central Asia, for its cooperation in the war on terrorism and for its deployment of military engineers to Iraq. However, the State Department faults the nation for a poor human rights record, which includes widespread corruption in the legal system.

On her visit, Miss Rice noted that Kazakhstan is a multiparty democracy. The country has 12 registered political parties, although it is still dominated by the powerful president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“This nation has a glorious past, and it is destined for a hopeful future,” Miss Rice said. “Kazakhstan’s greatest days lie ahead of it, and the United States wants to be your partner.”

The White House yesterday said President Bush asked Mr. Cheney to meet with the Kazakh president to “strengthen our bilateral relationship on the basis of our shared strategic interests and desire to promote democratic reform and economic development.”

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns visited Kazakhstan in January as the head of the U.S. delegation to Mr. Nazarbayev’s inauguration. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman traveled there last month.

View from Tokyo

The United States is suspicious of a proposed Asia-Pacific free-trade zone that would exclude Americans and is worried about the Chinese military buildup, the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo said yesterday.

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer urged Japan to drop plans for a trade agreement that would include Australia, China, India, New Zealand, South Korea and the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“What makes the United States uncomfortable is when people start talking about somehow trying to exclude the United States from Asia. We believe as a Pacific nation, we have tremendous interests in Asia, and we want to be part of Asia,” he was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying during a speech.

“If there is skepticism on our part, it only comes from the notion that somehow someone might be trying to exclude us from the area. That would be something that would not be met with favor in the United States.”

He added that any free-trade agreement between Washington and Tokyo would have to include Japan’s agricultural industry, which is protected by farm subsidies and high import duties. Mr. Schieffer noted that South Korea modified similar protectionist policies to open free-trade talks with the United States.

On China, he expressed concerns over its massive military buildup. Some analysts think China spends at least $80 billion on its military, the third-largest defense budget in the world after the United States and Russia.

“Is that for their domestic needs, or do they have something else in mind? I think the answer is not known at this point in time,” he said. “What we continually say to the Chinese is we would like for you to tell us why you need to increase your military budget in the way that you are doing.”

The military spending issue could come up todaywhen Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with President Bush at the White House.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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