(RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Kazakhstan for talks that are expected to focus on energy and security issues.
Rice is meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Karim Masimov, and Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin to discuss U.S.-Kazakh ties. The United States and Kazakhstan have a wide range of mutual interests -- from U.S. companies active in Kazakhstan's oil industry to security in Afghanistan.
Backed by wealth from its oil sales, Kazakhstan has emerged as a dominant presence in Central Asia. The country lies between Russia and China, giving its a strategic importance in terms of security and trade. Kazakhstan also has a small contingent of de-miners as part of the international force in Iraq and is part of NATO's corridor for delivering nonlethal cargo to Afghanistan.
On a flight from India to Kazakhstan, Rice told reporters that the United States is not interested in playing a "zero-sum game" in Kazakhstan by insisting Kazakhstan choose to side with the United States, or the West in general, at the expense of its ties with other countries, including Russia, its traditional ally.
"Kazakhstan is an independent country," Rice said. "It can have friendships with whomever it wishes."
Standing beside Kazakh Foreign Minister Tazhin in Astana, Rice repeated that sentiment when speaking about U.S.-Kazakh ties in the field of energy.
"This is not some kind of contest for the affection of Kazakhstan between the countries of the region," she said. "Kazakhstan is a country that has excellent relations with all of its neighbors. That is the way that it should be. It has excellent relations with the United States. We've talked some about the relations that you're developing with Europe, which are also very important, and expect that these will serve Kazakhstan well."
Tazhin also noted there is no contradiction or conflict in Kazakhstan's ties with the United States and Russia.
"I think that it's very important that these working relations with the United States and with Russia have a good and very solid base and perspectives," he said.
"I would say that these relations [with the United States] are based on agreements and contracts that have already been concluded," he continued. "It is an open, transparent relationship in the economic sphere, and I think they will develop in accordance with the plans we have already made."
Rice also said she spoke with Tazhin about Kazakhstan's impending chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"We also have an opportunity to talk about the upcoming chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 for Kazakhstan and the commitments that have been made there and also your plans for the future of that organization."Sagat Batyrkhanova of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report