- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ALMATY, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who in 1991 inherited from the Soviet Union a trove of weapons of mass destruction, is urging Iraq to follow his nation's example and disarm.
"We gained a lot from giving them up. Iraq should look at us as a model," Mr. Nazarbayev told The Washington Times in an interview.
When Kazakhstan became an independent country, public opinion was not in favor of disarmament, he said.
"Most people wanted to keep them," Mr. Nazarbayev, 62, said in his office in Almaty last week. "The general opinion was, what kind of country gives away such powerful weapons? Everyone will respect us if we keep them."
The arsenal included one of the world's largest anthrax production facilities and other biological weapons in the northern town of Stepnogorsk, the world's most sophisticated bioweapons testing ground on an island in the Aral Sea, 1,100 nuclear warheads placed in hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the world's largest nuclear testing ground in Semipalatinsk, near the border with China.
Mr. Nazarbayev gave the weapons up under international supervision, winning praise from the United States and others.
"The international community knows what real disarmament looks like: We saw it in Kazakhstan," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Nazarbayev closed Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground even before Kazakhstan won formal independence from the then-collapsing Soviet Union.
With subsequent financial and technical support from the West, he either destroyed or sent to Russia all the nuclear weapons. The bioweapons plant was destroyed and the bioweapons testing range in the Aral Sea was simply abandoned to scavengers.
A former metallurgical engineer who comes from a family of shepherds, the Kazakh president has since taken on a peacemaking mission well beyond his initial disarmament.
Last June, after 10 years of lobbying Asian leaders, he was able to gather in Almaty the heads of 16 nations representing half the world's population, including Russia, China, India and Pakistan, as well as representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The event marked the founding of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
This month, he organized a meeting of American Jewish leaders with representatives from six Central Asian governments, including two presidents, and Muslim religious leaders.
For an afternoon, more than 60 American Jewish leaders led by Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, were able to talk with a group of Central Asian Muslim clerics in a friendly atmosphere.
"This is an unusual gathering that would not have taken place in many places," Mr. Zuckerman said. "What makes it unique is that it is sponsored by a government."
Mr. Nazarbayev sees his country of some 14 million people, in which Kazakhs are a slight majority over ethnic Russians and other Slavs, as an example of how Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Jews can live in harmony.
Authorities do, however, harass Islamic and Christian groups perceived as extremist, according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.


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