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U.S. Envoy To Astana Predicts 'Very Busy Bilateral Relationship'


U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has ended his official visit to Washington and headed to New York to preside over a session of the UN Security Council.

Nazarbaev's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump dominated media coverage, but the Kazakh leader had other items on his agenda.

After the visit, RFE/RL spoke to current U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol, who was also in Washington.

Krol has met with the Kazakh leader many times, and the ambassador said Nazarbaev "views ties with the United States very positively in the context also of Kazakhstan's own foreign policy where it is what they describe as the multivector policy where they have strategic partnerships with their neighbors, particularly their large neighbors to the north [Russia] and to the east [China] and farther afield to the United States."

RFE/RL spoke recently to former U.S. Ambassador William Courtney about the rapid progress in U.S.-Kazakh relations after Kazakhstan gained independence in late 1991.

Krol offered this take on the subsequent period: "Over these last 25 years, the relationship has grown -- and the contacts, of course. President Nazarbaev has met every American president since President George Bush Sr., so this was another opportunity to connect with the leadership, the new administration of the United States."

'Enhanced Partnership'

Krol said of this week's U.S. visit, "Right now the priority -- and this is something that came out in the preparation for this visit, and it's stated in the joint statement of the United States and Kazakhstan -- is an enhanced strategic partnership for the 21st century, with an emphasis on "enhanced."

He said that part of that strategy includes "particularly Afghanistan, which is a key part of my president's South Asia strategy...as the world changes and has its challenges of dealing with violent extremism, if you will, [and] dealing with issues like the North Korean nuclear issue," Krol said. "The fact that the United States and Kazakhstan are now members of the Security Council of the United Nations...[means] the relationship has been transforming in the number of ties, the number of issues, and also increasing the level of engagement between our governments...to push for engagement beyond the traditional sectors, which have been in the energy sector."

U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev in Washington.

One area was business and opportunities for the United States to become further involved in Kazakhstan.

"I know that Kazakhstan has a priority to move from being a source of raw materials to be a source of processed goods and services and wanting to transform and diversify their economy and also to diversify that relationship with the United States, to encourage American business and investment in areas outside the energy sector, and that is something that both governments are pushing for particularly in this meeting," Krol said.

One achievement he pointed to was "an agreement signed between the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, which is a U.S. government agency, and Kazakhstan. OPIC which provides investment insurance, it also provides investment itself, is sort of open for business in Kazakhstan for American COMPANIES? That wish to develop business in Kazakhstan to have that focus and diversification in the economic side."

And Krol said that, after the meeting with Trump, Nazarbaev "had...a meeting at Blair House with the secretary of energy, Secretary [Rick] Perry, and then he spoke at a roundtable at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There were present the CEOs of numerous American companies that are doing business in Kazakhstan or those that are intending on doing business [in Kazakhstan]."

'Fruitful Meetings'

RFE/RL asked about some specific issues in Kazakh-U.S. ties.

One was speculation that Nazarbaev might offer his services as a mediator to smooth ties between Russian and the United States. Nazarbaev successfully helped mediate between Russia and Turkey after a Turkish fighter shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015 and several rounds of international talks on Iran's nuclear program were held in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Krol said simply: "The subject of trying to alleviate tensions in relationships around the world was certainly touched upon and spoken about. Let's just say that, obviously, as President Nazarbaev said, he wishes to have a relationship, a productive relationship among all the partners that Kazakhstan has, which includes the United States and [Kazakhstan's] neighbors."

At the end of December, the Bank of New York Mellon froze more than $22 billion of assets from Kazakhstan's National Fund over a lawsuit launched by a Moldovan businessman.

Asked whether those funds were a topic of conversation during Nazarbaev's visit to the United States, Krol said, "No, because as I understand it, this freezing of [Kazakh assets], it's a London filial of the Bank of New York Mellon, and I think the court which froze it was a British court.... It's not an issue of the United States government being involved."

But Krol indicated Nazarbaev's meetings were fruitful. "I think one of the big takeaways of this visit is, again, the reason why these are so important is they meet together and they spend [time] together to understand each other and where they're coming from -- and not just the leaders but the delegations that came together. Because for those who are on the [Kazakh] delegation, this is also an opportunity to have the first meetings with senior members of the American administration. I should simply say as a result of this visit, because they discussed so much, I think we're going to have a very busy bilateral relationship to move a lot of these things forward in diversifying the relationship."

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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