- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kazakhs’ choices

Kazakhstan dismantled a massive nuclear arsenal, privatized a post Soviet- economy, built a strategic relationship with the United States, created a religiously tolerant Muslim nation and developed a global energy market all by making the right choices, according to the Kazakh ambassador.

Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev traveled to Yale University earlier this month to introduce the “real Kazakhstan” and dispel the popular impressions left by a British comic who mocked the Central Asian nation in a recent movie.

“Today I would like to talk about the real Kazakhstan, not the version of it represented, or rather, misrepresented in the movie, ‘Borat,’ by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen,” the ambassador said.

“I would like to talk about realities and challenges of modern Kazakhstan, about why Kazakhstan is important for the United States, why the United States is important for Kazakhstan and why we should waste no efforts into strengthening and expanding cooperation.”

Mr. Saudabayev said his country defied the experts who predicted that Kazakhstan was “doomed to failure” when the former Soviet republic gained its independence 15 years ago. At the time, Kazakhstan might have resembled the country portrayed in the Borat movie — backward, polluted, poor and isolated.

“The key word important for understanding the history of modern Kazakhstan is the word, ‘choice,’ ” he said. “The choices our people have been making and the choices our president has been making.”

Kazakhstan chose to scrap an arsenal of 1,000 nuclear warheads and 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles inherited from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Saudabayev said the pressures to maintain the weapons came from the elite within the country and other Muslim nations that wanted Kazakhstan to become the first Islamic country with the bomb.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, however, decided that Kazakhstan would win greater global recognition by embracing nuclear nonproliferation, the ambassador said.

Kazakhstan also chose to privatize its economy and develop its massive energy resources into one of the world’s top suppliers of oil, natural gas and uranium. It produces 1.3 million barrels of oil a day and aims to pump 3.5 million daily by 2015.

Mr. Saudabayev added that Kazakhstan developed a strategic partnership with the United States by supporting the war on terrorism and suppling troops to Iraq. President Bush held an “unprecedented two-hour meeting” at the White House with Mr. Nazarbayev in September.

“Equally important is the example of Kazakhstan as a moderate and tolerant Muslim nation,” the ambassador said.

He praised Mr. Nazarbayev for embracing democratic principles, although most observers have criticized Kazakh elections as unfair, and the State Department cites the government for a poor human rights record.

Salvador talks

President Bush yesterday praised the progress of a free-trade agreement when he met President Antonio Saca of El Salvador and urged Congress to pass a “comprehensive” immigration-reform bill.

Mr. Saca said the economy of his country has grown 20 percent in the first year of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Saca also urged Mr. Bush to extend the Temporary Protected Status that allows thousands of Salvadorans to live legally in the United States. The measure expires in September.

Mr. Bush said, “Every time [Mr. Saca] comes to the Oval Office, he’s expressed his deep concern and strong support for his citizens that may be here in our country. And I assured him that I was open-minded to his request, but, more importantly, I’m working hard to get a comprehensive bill, immigration bill, passed out of the United States Congress.”

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