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'Victorious' Kazakhs Told To Wait On OSCE Decision

Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev in Vienna in late October (OSCE) BRUSSELS, December 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- OSCE foreign ministers have postponed a potentially contentious decision on allowing Kazakhstan to chair the organization in 2009, a move that a senior Kazakh official deemed a "victory" for that Central Asian republic.

Foreign ministers from the 56 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who were expected to respond to the Kazakh bid during a meeting in Brussels today, put a decision off until 2007.

The bid was mainly opposed by the United States and Britain, who argued that Kazakhstan must do more to meet OSCE standards.

Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has led the country since 1990 and was reelected to a new term in December. His government keeps a tight rein on an economy driven largely by oil and natural gas. Critics accuse him of smothering dissent by shackling the media and persecuting political opponents.

Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev described the outcome of the Brussels meeting as "a victory of Kazakhstan's diplomacy."

Aliev, who is a son-in-law of President Nazarbaev and Kazakhstan's top official in charge of relations with the OSCE, said Astana retains "a good chance of chairing the organization in 2009."

'Close' U.S. Friend

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington has no objections to the Kazakh bid in principle.

"We're Kazakhstan's strategic partner; we're a close friend," Burns said. "We admire the fact that Kazakhstan wants to lead this organization. You need a consensus in this organization for that to happen, and I think the decision by all of us is that it's better to wait until 2007, have the OSCE look again in 2007 at the request from Kazakhstan to take a leadership role, and make a decision then."

Burns said a Kazakh chairmanship is a "live possibility" in the future, although its date cannot be predicted now.

He praised Kazakhstan as the only country from Central Asia to aspire to the role, and said it would be a "great symbol" if Astana were to get such an opportunity.

Burns also said the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel Fried, had a "helpful" discussion today with Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev.

Burns stressed that Kazakhstan is "heading toward a positive result in 2007" but also said "other countries" have come forward competing to chair the OSCE in 2009.

(with additional reporting by Kazakhstan Today)

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