Visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Kazakhstan’s top leadership on May 8 in Astana to discuss a range of bilateral and regional cooperation issues, including events in Ukraine and the situation in Afghanistan as well as Kazakhstan’s upcoming accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The key message coming out from Burns’s meetings with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Prime Minister Karim Massimov and Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov was that both Washington and Astana are strongly interested in further expanding their strategic partnership in the long term.
“I have come to Kazakhstan to underscore a simple but important message: America’s commitment to Kazakhstan and Central Asia is enduring because America’s interests in Kazakhstan and Central Asia are enduring,” Burns said at a media briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Astana following his meetings. “The crisis in Ukraine and the ongoing transition in Afghanistan underscore what’s at stake and reinforce the importance of building a stronger and deeper relationship between our governments and between our peoples.”
During the meeting with Burns in the Akorda presidential residence, President Nazarbayev emphasized that Kazakhstan, too, is ready to actively develop bilateral ties with the United States.
“Recently in The Hague, I met with the U.S. President. We discussed in detail the development of relations between our countries, and the situation that is emerging in the world today. Besides we issued a joint statement. We should continue our bilateral cooperation at a high level,” the Kazakh President said.
In turn, Burns reiterated Washington’s long-term commitment to the strategic partnership with Kazakhstan.
Welcoming Burns at Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry for their own meeting, Idrissov emphasised the importance of implementation of the agreements reached by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and US President Barack Obama during the Nuclear Security Summit held in The Hague in March.
“The parties noted with satisfaction the cooperation between the two countries on global security issues, primarily in the field of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the Kazakh foreign ministry’s press service reported. One fresh example of such cooperation came on May 6 in New York when the U.S., along with four other recognised nuclear weapon states, signed a protocol to the treaty on a Central Asian nuclear weapons free zone, thereby giving guarantees not to use nuclear weapons or the threat of the use of such weapons against five members of the zone. Kazakhstan, as chair of the nuclear weapons free zone for two years, has worked to advance this issue, achieving the significant strengthening of security in the Central Asian region, and making a solid contribution to the global non-proliferation.
According to Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry, Idrissov and Burns also exchanged views on topical issues on the international and regional security agendas, including the situation in Ukraine. Both officials noted the need for all stakeholders to meet commitments reached in Geneva on April 17 this year, and expressed hope that the parties involved in the conflict will show restraint and avoid further bloodshed.
The sides also talked about the next steps in Afghanistan’s transition and how to continue to work together to preserve and sustain security there and that country’s efforts towards peace.
“We remain ready to sign a bilateral security agreement to allow a number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in a train, advise, and assist capacity. And we look forward to Kazakhstan’s continued partnership, whether through its support for the Northern Distribution Network or its efforts to accelerate Afghanistan’s economic development. Kazakhstan is working to build its own international aid agency and we look forward to working closely together in Afghanistan and beyond,” Burns said at a media briefing after his meetings.
According to Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry, Idrissov and Burns also touched on progress in harmonising the agreement on improving international tax control and implementation of the U.S. law on tax control of foreign accounts. This document offers new opportunities for effective cooperation and information exchange between financial and tax authorities of the two countries.
“Our meetings today also focused on some of the top priorities in our bilateral relationship, including our cooperation in the security, commercial, legal, and education sectors, and our support for Kazakhstan’s efforts to join the World Trade Organisation. And we had a candid and constructive conversation about how to ensure that the country’s political progress keeps pace with its economic development. Both are essential not only for Kazakhstan’s future but also to realising the full promise of our partnership,” Burns said at a media briefing.
“In my meetings today, I had the opportunity to emphasise our support for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all the countries in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan,” Burns told the media briefing. “We are deeply appreciative of Kazakhstan’s constructive statements on the very combustible situation in Ukraine and its efforts to encourage de-escalation. As we’ve made clear, we do not seek a confrontation with Russia – we believe that it is deeply in the interests of Ukraine and Russia to have a healthy relationship, born of their centuries of cultural, economic, and social ties. The same holds true for Russia’s other neighbours.”
At the media briefing, Burns was also asked to comment on the recent nomination of George Krol, currently the U.S. Ambassador in Tashkent, as the new top U.S. diplomat in Astana, and on whether this would signify any change in U.S. policies towards Kazakhstan.
“George Krol is an extremely capable diplomat. I would add that we are very fortunate to have Ambassador John Ordway here now, who is a well-known figure in Kazakhstan, and also an extremely capable diplomat,” Burns said. “I can say with certainty that the United States will continue to attach very high priority to our strategic partnership with Kazakhstan. We attach a great deal of value to the leadership that President Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan have demonstrated on many issues. And, as I said in my opening remarks, the United States will remain engaged in and committed to Central Asia for many years to come.”
“This partnership began in the very first year of Kazakhstan’s independence and it has withstood the tests of time. I am convinced that this relationship is as strong and as resilient as ever and that there is much more we can accomplish together, as partners, in the years ahead,” Burns said at the conclusion of his visit. One day prior, he also visited Uzbekistan.