Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has arrived in neighboring Uzbekistan for a working visit, a trip that comes amid what his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoev, hailed as a "historic" year of improving relations between the two major players in Central Asia.
Mirziyoev, who took power last year, greeted Nazarbaev at the airport on September 16 in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, after which the two leaders visited an industrial exhibition devoted to bilateral ties and a monument to the Uzbek president's predecessor, the late autocrat Islam Karimov, where Nazarbaev laid flowers.
During Karimov's rule of more than a quarter-century, Uzbekistan was at odds with its neighbors over border disputes, ethnic tensions, and economic spats tied to water distribution and energy transportation in the region.
But Mirziyoev, who took over the region's most populous country of more than 30 million in September 2016 following Karimov's death, and his government have said improving ties with neighboring former Soviet republics is a top foreign-policy priority.
"One could truly call this year historic in terms of relations between the two countries," Nazarbaev's press service quoted Mirziyoev as saying in Tashkent on September 16. "A serious breakthrough can be seen between our two governments in all spheres of the economy."
Nazarbaev, an authoritarian leader who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 25 years, said Mirziyoev had done "a lot in a short period of time for the successful development of bilateral ties," the Kazakh leader's office said.
Mirziyoev's office said the two sides had agreed to declare 2018 the "Year Of Uzbekistan" in Kazakhstan, and 2019 the "Year Of Kazakhstan" in Uzbekistan.
From Tashkent, Nazarbaev is set to travel to the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, for the opening of the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games on September 17.
Mirziyoev's press service said on September 15 that the Uzbek president will also attend the opening of the Asian Games in Ashgabat, where he is expected to hold talks with leaders of other countries.
Tajik media reports said earlier that Tajik President Emomali Rahmon will be in Ashgabat on September 17 as well.