- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Kazakh stability

Kazakhstan, with its vast oil and gas riches, wants to strengthen relations with the West but must also deal with powerful neighbors with competing interests in Central Asia, according to a top Kazakh adviser.

“The situation is getting complicated,” said Maulen Ashimbayev, director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, during a recent visit to The Washington Times.

Mr. Ashimbayev, whose think tank advises President Nursultan Nazarbayev, said his country must deal with the desires of the United States, Russia, China and the Islamic world, each of which wants to extend influence among the former Soviet republics in the region.

Kazakhstan shares a 4,300-mile border with Russia and a 950-mile border with China.

The extension of a U.S. military presence in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan and long-established bases in Japan and South Korea are creating “anxiety in China,” Mr. Ashimbayev said, and Beijing is beginning to feel “encircled.”

China is trying to promote its influence through cultural and economic diplomacy, he said.

“Russia is also rethinking its role in Central Asia and considers it a zone of Russian dominance,” he added.

Meanwhile, Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are interested in Kazakhstan, where 47 percent of the population is Muslim. The Russian Orthodox Church claims 44 percent of the population.

“They are trying to create a wedge between the Islamic states [in Central Asia] and the United States,” he said.

However, Kazakhstan is unlikely to succumb to Islamic extremism because, “in Kazakhstan, it is not possible to have religious parties,” he said.

Mr. Ashimbayev urged the Bush administration to strengthen its relations with Kazakhstan, which wants to be a strategic partner with the United States.

“The potential for U.S.-Kazakh relations is far from being fully exploited,” he said, adding that his country “will be an ever more attractive partner in the future.”

That attraction will, of course, include energy. Mr. Ashimbayev said Kazakhstan, with its 1,000-mile coastline on the Caspian Sea, could be producing up to 2 million barrels of oil per day within five years.

“That would be double our output,” he said.

Mr. Ashimbayev also expressed his worries about instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, where his government is especially concerned about the growing opium trade that is attracting drug smuggling through Kazakhstan.

Opium production has soared to 183,000 acres, a 65 percent increase since the United States overthrew the brutal Taliban regime.

“It is creating organized crime, prostitution and corruption,” he said.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Retired Israeli Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan discusses the benefits of an Israeli security fence in a briefing sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

• Professor Lise Garon of Quebec’s Laval University, who addresses the Middle East Institute on human rights in North Africa.

Tomorrow

• Vladimir Shkolnik, Kazakhstan’s minister of energy and mineral resources, who participates in a forum sponsored by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

• Iraqi Health Minister Khudair Abbas, who holds a 3 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

• Javier Solana, secretary general of the Council of the European Union, who presents the European Institute’s Transatlantic Leadership Award to Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on international policy.

Friday

• Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Indonesia’s minister of energy and mineral resources, who addresses the United States-Indonesia Society.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]


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