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EU, Kazakhstan Discuss Relations

Shkolnik (right) with Kazakhstan's EU Ambasador Konstantin Zhigalov
BRUSSELS -- EU and Kazakh officials have met in Brussels to discuss energy cooperation, the Russian-Georgian conflict, and other issues of mutual interest.

The annual EU-Kazakh meeting brought no breakthroughs, although Brussels' interest in the Central Asian country's vast oil and natural-gas reserves was apparent.

After the meeting, France's secretary of state in charge of European affairs, Jean Pierre Jouyet, highlighted the importance the EU places on the relationship:

"It is clear and we have said so this morning, that clearly the diversification of supplies, the energy partnership we have with Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan's efforts with regard to building up infrastructure, issues linked to the Caspian and European [transit] routes, are all very important elements [for the EU],." Jouyet said.

Kazakh officials expressed general interest in energy cooperation with the EU, but stressed that projects for new gas-transit routes are still in the planning stages. Kazakhstan is trying to strike a delicate balance between Russia and the European Union. Moscow has offered to buy up all of its gas, while the EU is interested in direct access to Kazakhstan's hydrocarbons bypassing Russian mediation.

Kazakh officials refrained from any direct endorsement of the EU's Nabucco project -- a planned gas pipeline from Turkey to Austria that would serve as a direct link to Caspian energy reserves. Neither did the Kazakh representatives publicly comment on plans for a possible trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which would be needed for the EU to reach Central Asian gas.

Kazakhstan has in recent years become one of the largest investors in Georgia, a key transit country.

Kazakh Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said Astana strives to continue cooperating with all its current partner countries. But he admitted there are "risks" affecting his countries multibillion-dollar investments in Georgia's energy sector in the wake of the recent Georgian-Russian war.

"We are hoping the risks will be minimal, that the conflict will be resolved within the framework of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan," he said. "We are hoping our economic plans with regard to Georgia will not change. But I must repeat once again that any investments are about big money that will have to be weighed against the risks [affecting] whatever plans that exist. We will naturally have to take them into account."

Kazakh officials on September 15 affirmed their support for the principle of territorial integrity, but sidestepped direct questions on what their country's stance is on Georgia.

Jouyet said improvements in the field of human rights and democratic reforms are crucial for Kazakh preparations to become the first Central Asian country to assume the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010.