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Central Asia: Uzbek, Kazakh Presidents Boost Cooperation

Uzbek President Karimov (file photo) (RFE/RL) Uzbek President Islam Karimov said his March 20 meeting with his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev has "an unprecedented significance." Nazarbaev arrived in Tashkent on March 19 for the first state visit between these two countries. It is also the first state visit since Nazarbaev was reelected in last December's presidential polls.

PRAGUE, March 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking at a news conference in Tashkent late on March 20, President Karimov praised Nazarbaev's visit to Uzbekistan. He said the summit should give the impetus for "huge unused opportunities" in bilateral cooperation. He added that such meetings should be held regularly.

"We consider the first state visit of Kazakhstan's president to Uzbekistan in the history of bilateral relations as a wonderful opportunity to exchange opinions on a wide range of issues on further strengthening cooperation between the two countries and realizing unused potential as well as promoting security and stability in the region."

The two countries have signed more than 90 agreements since 1991, including a treaty on eternal friendship.

Bilateral trade was some $500 million in 2005, a major fall from 1992 when total trade turnover stood at $2.7 billion.

Friendly Rivals?

Karimov and Nazarbaev head two biggest countries in Central Asia. They have long been known as rivals competing for regional hegemony as well as for foreign investment and the favor of Russia, the United States, and China.

After signing seven more documents yesterday, the presidents spoke about the significance of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia and said that regional security cannot be provided without their cooperation.

Nazarbaev said the two countries came to realize that they had no other alternatives but to cooperate. "I believe that after all the years of independence we reached a moment when we have to restore our relations," he said. "Particularly because the geopolitical situation in our region and the fate of the integration process with our neighbors depends on the relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan."

Karimov rejected suggestions that he and Nazarbaev are competing for leadership of the region. "Simply speaking, if Kazakhs and Uzbeks are together -- I want everyone to hear this -- it will be impossible to defeat or conquer us. I say this with full responsibility."

Anti-Western Feelings

The Uzbek leader also lashed out at foreign forces for destabilizing the situation in Central Asia. "What doesn't contribute to security and stability is attempts by certain outside forces to reach their far-reaching geopolitical goals on the pretense of promoting democracy and freedom, and without taking into account our national interests," he said.

Nazarbaev's visit comes after Tashkent reoriented its foreign policy toward Russia. Uzbekistan's relations with the West soured last year after Uzbek government troops clashed with protesters in Andijon, killing hundreds. Tashkent rejected Western calls to allow an independent probe of the event, saying "foreign-paid terrorists" were behind the violence.

In January, Uzbekistan joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Community that also includes Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. The organization is known to be Nazarbaev's creation.

The Kazakh leader praised official Tashkent's change in foreign policy on March 20. "I believe Uzbekistan's accession to [the Eurasian Economic Community] and the continuation of work toward creating a free-trade zone, which you have spoken about long ago, should lead to a serious breakthrough in a sphere of economic cooperation and contribute to the implementation of our initiatives to create the Central Asian common market," Nazarbaev said.

Shared Economic Interests

The two sides agreed to create an Interstate Coordination Council under the auspices of both presidents. The body is to work out an economic cooperation program between the two states for 2006-10. It will also monitor implementation of existing agreements and look for new areas of cooperation.

Bilateral trade was some $500 million in 2005, a major fall from 1992 when total trade turnover stood at $2.7 billion. Nazarbaev said the two sides should reach $1 billion in trade turnover in the near future.

Nazarbaev suggested that a branch of the Kazakhstan Development Bank be opened in Tashkent. He also said Kazakhstan is ready to continue to supply Kazakh oil to Uzbekistan.

Among other documents signed on March 20 are agreements on science, technology, intellectual property, international road communications, the distribution of radio frequencies, and cooperation in fighting agricultural pests.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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