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Qaddafi Got The Nuclear Snub From Kazakhstan

"Trouble you for a warhead or 10?"
"Trouble you for a warhead or 10?"
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is a man of peace. In 1993, just two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan -- home to one of the U.S.S.R.’s main testing sites at Semipalatinsk (in pictures) -- signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a nonnuclear state. This meant that the world’s fourth-biggest cache of nuclear weapons would need to be transferred. In the end, it was transferred in consultation with the United States and Russia -- along with hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade uranium.

As it turns out, there were some other people hoping to get their hands on the stockpiles as well. According to Qasymzhomart Tokaev, Kazakhstan’s former foreign minister (2003-07), Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi contacted the Nazarbaev government through “diplomatic channels” in an attempt to procure Kazakhstan's nuclear arsenal. Speaking at a conference in Astana, Tokaev, now director-general of the UN Office at Geneva, laid out some details of Qaddafi's offer and why Nazarbaev ultimately rejected the Libyan strongman.

From RIA Novosti:

Tokayev, who served as Kazakhstan’s foreign minister from 2003 to 2007 and is currently the director-general of the United Nations Office in Geneva, also said Gaddafi had pledged “many billions” to fund the project. Tokayev did not specify a currency.

He also said that Kazakhstan’s long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had declined the offer over concerns for global “strategic order” and suggested the decision demonstrated that the country’s “national leader” possessed the “political and moral right to head a global anti-nuclear movement.”

Nazarbaev's office has thus far not commented on the Qaddafi offer. Given history, however, it stands to reason that if indeed Kazakhstan was propositioned by Qaddafi, the offer was rejected.

Despite the country's many rights abuses, tight media controls, and general authoritarianism, nuclear nonproliferation is one area where Kazakhstan has been a global leader. Nazarbaev noted as much in his 2001 book, "Epicenter of Peace." The book, one of more than 100 authored by the president, details Kazakhstan's role as a nuclear weapons testing ground for the Soviet Union and the nasty effects it had on the land and on the people living on the country's eastern steppe.

The introduction to "Epicenter of Peace," written by Harvard's Graham Allison -- who was serving in the Clinton administration at the time of Kazakhstan's disarmament -- details just how chaotic the process was:

In brief, Kazak authorities discovered that in addition to the weapons and test facilities on their territory at the end of the Cold War, they had also inherited a cache of weapons-grade uranium sufficient for production of more than 100 additional nuclear weapons. On the world market to those seeking nuclear weapons, this certainly represented hundreds of millions of dollars to a state with severe economic challenges. Under President Nazarbayev, however, the Kazakh government in consultation with both Russia and the United States made the decision to safeguard the material by transferring it to storage in the United States.

Nazarbaev's nonproliferation chops have even earned him a couple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2008, "ABC News" reported that two U.S. congressmen, Darrell Issa (Republican-California) and Charlie Melancon (Democrat-Louisiana), were circulating a letter to nominate Nazarbaev for the prize. In 2011, their congressional colleague Eni Faleomavaega (Democrat-American Samoa) nominated Nazarbaev for the Nobel in a decree signed on the Marshall Islands for the Kazakh president's role in stopping nuclear weapons testing. In 2012, Nazarbaev's name was again put in the Nobel hat, this time by Hiroyuki Moriyama, a parliament deputy in Japan.

Nazarbaev has yet to hoist the Nobel medal, but that hasn't stopped him from painting Kazakhstan as a beacon to the rest of the nuclear-weapons-seeking world. In a March 2012 op-ed for "The New York Times" titled "What Iran Can Learn From Kazakhstan," the Kazakh president called on the Iranian government to "make the right choice" on nuclear weapons, and even offered space in Kazakhstan to open the world's first international nuclear-fuel bank.

Perhaps, when it comes to nukes, anyway, there is something to "The Kazakhstan Way."

-- Zach Peterson

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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