Halfway through the year, Kazakhstan has failed to adopt the political reforms it promised in order to get Western support for its goal of chairing an international human rights forum, members of the U.S. Congress complained Tuesday on a visit to the energy-rich Central Asian nation.
"Those commitments dealt with the rights of political parties, election reform, protection of religious entities and a free media," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Maryland Democrat added, "Progress was to be made in 2008. … Much more needs to be made."
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, the other co-chairman, said the delegation reminded Kazakh leaders of the promises they made last year when they won support from the United States and other Western countries to lead the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"We have continuously urged, and will continue to urge, the government of Kazakhstan to reform its methodologies with reference to rights and opportunities for the opposition in this country," Mr. Hastings, Florida Democrat, told reporters at a press conference in the country's capital, Astana.
Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled the country since independence from the Soviet Union in 1989, first as a communist leader and lately as president. He was last elected in 2005 with 91 percent of the vote. His political party won every seat in the lower house of the Kazakh parliament in last year's elections.
Critics have noted the irony of Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE when the organization has never certified a Kazakh election as free and fair. They believe Mr. Nazarbayev is leveraging Kazakhstan's vast energy resources to win credibility from the West.
Mr. Hastings said he recognized Kazakhstan's contribution to the world oil market.
"With oil prices soaring to record highs, we appreciate the role that Kazakhstan is playing in bringing oil to the market," he said.
Last year, Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin promised vast reforms when seeking support at the OSCE annual meeting in Madrid. He said Kazakhstan would promote press freedom by easing criminal penalties for libel and defamation, liberalize regulations on political parties and open a dialogue between the government and the public.
Mr. Cardin and Mr. Hastings are leading a congressional delegation to the OSCE's annual Parliamentary Assembly. John Ordway, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, is accompanying them.
David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, likes to give free advice. Just ask him.
Many Americans and Canadians have visited the U.S. Embassy's "Ask the Ambassador" feature at http://canada.usembassy.gov to query Mr. Wilkins about U.S.-Canadian relations. In one of the latest exchanges, "Daniel in Tennessee" wanted advice getting a job as a diplomat.
"There is no one path to becoming a U.S. diplomat," Mr. Wilkins replied. "Diplomats come from all different backgrounds and have a wide breadth of experiences."
He told Daniel the best subjects to study in college are whatever you like.
"Almost any field — from music and the arts to political science or history — would be of use in our varied and ever-changing diplomatic corps," he said, adding that a "good sense of humor" and "genuine concern for people" are also important qualities.
"And lastly, I'd add that members of our Embassy and Consulates are also very patriotic," Mr. Wilkins said. "They genuinely want to serve their country."
Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.