- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Ground Zero

The ambassador from Kazakhstan, whose country was the first to unilaterally give up its nuclear arsenal, traveled to Nevada, where the U.S. tested atomic bombs for decades, to urge the world to renounce those weapons of mass destruction.

Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev called on delegates at an international symposium in Las Vegas to urge their nations’ leaders to follow the example of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ordered the destruction of more than 1,340 nuclear warheads the country inherited after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“The world can and should follow Kazakhstan’s example and engage in further reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals and other weapons of mass destruction, prevent their further proliferation, not to mention preventing their acquisition by terrorists,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks released yesterday by the Kazakh Embassy.

“I am deeply convinced our calls for full renunciation of nuclear weapons will be heard in the world because we are talking about values shared by all the people on the planet.

“My country has already contributed to this process and continues along the path. The more countries that follow Kazakhstan’s example, the safer and better our world will be.”

Mr. Saudabayev said his country paid a heavy price because of the Soviet Union’s open-air testing of nuclear weapons at the Semipalatinsk test site in eastern Kazakhstan between 1949 and 1991. Radiation spread over 116,000 square miles, about one-tenth the land mass of the Central Asian nation, and affected more than 1.5 million people.

The United States conducted 928 nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, from 1951 to 1992, and radioactive elements were detected in cow’s milk in Wisconsin about 1,600 miles away.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, the Nevada Democrat who helped organized the symposium, noted Kazakhstan’s strategic importance as a future energy source for the United States.

“Kazakhstan is a very important strategic partner for the United States,” she said. “The Kazakhstan-United States relationship will continue to grow because of Kazakhstan’s strategic location and our need of their oil and gas reserves.”

Kazakhstan is bordered by the oil-rich Caspian Sea, Russia and China.

North Korean visit

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea yesterday joined dozens of foreign diplomats on an unprecedented trip to an industrial complex in North Korea.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, on his first trip to the communist nation, said he gathered valuable information about the Kaesong Industrial Park, where 15 South Korean companies employ about 4,000 North Korean workers.

South Korea considers the joint venture a model of future economic cooperation between the two countries, but the Bush administration has strong doubts about the project.

On his return to Seoul, Mr. Vershbow told reporters, “There are questions people have in their minds about Kaesong, and I hope the information that I pass back will be helpful to my colleagues in understanding better what’s happening in Kaesong.”

In Washington, presidential adviser Jay Lefkowitz warned that the money generated by the South Korean businesses could help North Korea in its nuclear weapons program and could result in the mistreatment of employees at the complex.

“The world knows little about what actually goes on at Kaesong, and given North Korea’s track record, there is ample concern about worker exploitation,” Mr. Lefkowitz, the Bush administration envoy on North Korean human rights issues, wrote in an April article in the Wall Street Journal.

Seventy-six diplomats visited the complex.

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

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