- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009



The inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. president has opened a new page in the history of America and the world. Great hopes for changes for the better are pinned on the new American leader. We in Kazakhstan sincerely wish the 44th U.S. president strong health and strong political will to fully realize his good intentions of making America and the world safer and more prosperous.

Kazakhstan and the U.S. are time-tested strategic partners with successful experience of working together in such critical areas as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism, energy, and democracy. A phone conversation soon after the election between Obama and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev instilled confidence that, under the new administration, Kazakhstan-U.S. relations would continue to grow. The two leaders discussed further cooperation on pressing international problems such as nonproliferation, the fight against terrorism and the stabilization of Afghanistan.

We in Kazakhstan not only share the new administration’s concern with these problems but also believe their solution lies through stronger cooperation of progressive nations sharing common values. Closing our ranks even further is especially crucial today in the face of the most serious economic crisis the world has seen. “America is strongest when we act alongside strong partners,” says President Obama. Kazakhstan is such a partner eager to continue working shoulder to shoulder with the United States and others to build a more secure and prosperous world.

Cooperation in the critical area of nonproliferation has been a cornerstone of our strategic partnership. In the early 1990s, President Nazarbayev took a courageous decision to voluntarily renounce the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal (which it held while part of the old Soviet Union). Working with the U.S. under the outstanding Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, Kazakhstan has fully rid itself of nuclear weapons and their infrastructure, becoming an active participant in global nonproliferation processes. Today, our cooperation, recognized as the most effective model for removing a nuclear threat, successfully continues.

We are greatly encouraged by the fact that nonproliferation is among the top priorities for President Obama and his administration. We believe it is necessary to not only continue our bilateral cooperation, but also to use more actively the example of Kazakhstan’s nuclear disarmament and our cooperation with the United States in convincing other countries to renounce their nuclear-weapon ambitions. Kazakhstan’s dynamic economic development since independence, and the evolution of our country into an equal and respected partner of the international community - confirmed by Kazakhstan’s election as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) - these are all arguments which prove that renouncing nuclear weapons and opting for mutually beneficial cooperation with the world is a more effective way of ensuring a country’s security than a nuclear bludgeon.

Kazakhstan, having initially supported efforts of the United States and other countries in Operation Enduring Freedom, will continue to assist the international coalition actions in Afghanistan as these are directed at strengthening security and stability in Central Asia and beyond, which is in our common interests. The international community should pour more efforts into the political settlement and economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan, as well as in reducing, and, eventually, eliminating fully, the production and smuggling of drugs out of that country.

Today, it is crucial to continue building bridges between Islam and the West, and to renounce phobia of Islam in the West and phobia of the West in the Islamic world. Kazakhstan, a secular Muslim-majority country bridging Europe and Asia, is uniquely positioned to promote such dialogue and understanding. At President Nazarbayev’s initiative, this year Kazakhstan will host the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Last year, Astana hosted a forum, “Common World: Progress through Diversity,” bringing together foreign ministers from Western and Oriental nations. Last but not least, Kazakhstan will chair the OSCE in 2010 and the OIC in 2011. Promoting the dialog of civilizations during this important period will be one of our top priorities, and we hope to achieve greater mutual understanding between the West and the Islamic world. Again, Kazakhstan is eager to work together with the United States in this area of great importance to us all.

We welcome Barack Obama’s intention to visit Kazakhstan. He would become the first-ever sitting U.S. President to visit not just Kazakhstan but also the region of Central Asia. Such a visit would both give a new, powerful boost to our bilateral cooperation and help chart a new way forward in U.S. relations with moderate Muslim nations. That is why we sincerely say to the American leader: “Welcome to Kazakhstan, Mr. President!”

Kanat Saudabayev is Kazakhstan’s secretary of state. He served as Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Washington in 2000-2007.

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