- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

The U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan has dealt a powerful blow to Islamic fundamentalist movements that threaten all of Central Asia, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in an interview yesterday.
Reflecting the country's new diplomatic visibility with the massive U.S. deployment to the region, Kazakh and U.S. officials during the president's visit adopted a new statement on strategic relations and signed an accord on long-term cooperation on energy exploration and transportation.
"The defeat of the Taliban has influenced the situation in Central Asia very positively," Mr. Nazarbayev said in the interview at the Blair House, just hours after meeting with President Bush and senior administration officials. He spoke through an interpreter.
"The Taliban movement and the Afghan bases were a center for terrorism in our region," he said. "Inside Kazakhstan now we see no threat from Islamic extremism, but it could have penetrated our country and threatened control of oil routes. Now that threat is destroyed."
But, he added, the al Qaeda terrorist network remains a threat that must be dealt with, even with the success in Afghanistan.
Although not a front-line state in the Afghanistan campaign, Kazakhstan has won praise from U.S. officials for its early support for the global counterterrorism effort, including the offer of Kazakh military bases and airspace for the United States and its allies. Mr. Nazarbayev said Kazakh intelligence services are also working with their American counterparts.
"If there are other needs" as the global terrorism campaign proceeds, Kazakhstan "will be willing to supply them," the president said.
The new focus on Central Asian security has been a diplomatic boon to many of the region's leaders, who had seen relations with the United States suffer in recent years due to concerns over human rights violation and corruption. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, like Mr. Nazarbayev a past target of human-rights complaints, is expected to visit Washington next month.
Despite repeated State Department criticism of Kazakhstan's human rights record and treatment of political and media critics, Mr. Nazarbayev lunched yesterday with Vice President Richard B. Cheney before meeting with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at the White House.
In the Blair House interview, the Kazakh president again made a pitch for a pipeline to carry Kazakh oil through Iran, saying that the route was the most efficient economically.
He said U.S. laws banning participation in such a pipeline only hurt American oil firms. But the Bush administration so far has refused to consider easing the ban.
The warm U.S. reception for Mr. Nazarbayev has elicited some criticism.
"We are aware that the United States needs help after what happened September 11," Bigeldy Gabdullin said in an interview this week. "But it is also important that our people know about their leader. We don't know of any burning issue that would cause the U.S. president to give a photo opportunity to President Nazarbayev."
Mr. Gabdullin was editor of an opposition newspaper in Almaty, Kazakhstan, before being forced to flee the country as his offices were firebombed. He also faced legal charges for "insulting the honor and dignity of the president."
Mr. Nazarbayev dismissed criticisms of his country's human rights record, citing the large number of political parties and media outlets available in Kazakhstan. He said the topic of human rights had not come up in his talks with President Bush.

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