Iran has accepted Kazakhstan’s offer to host the next round of its nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group (all five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany) (Trend, February 4). Citing a desire to reduce regional tensions and avert an escalation of the nuclear crisis, Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov reaffirmed his country’s readiness to host the next round of talks during a late January visit to Moscow (Press TV, January 26). Kazakhstani officials had proposed such a meeting on several previous occasions (Tengrinews, February 4). For example, President Nursultan Nazarbayev had raised the idea of Kazakhstan hosting a P5+1 meeting last year (Fars News Agency, February 6). In 2012, three largely fruitless rounds of the talks occurred in Istanbul (April 14), Bagdad (May 23–24) and Moscow (June 18–19).
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Oceania Seyed Abbas Araqchi said that his government considered Kazakhstan a benign and impartial party regarding the Iranian nuclear file. He noted that, while Astana implements the mandatory sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council, Kazakhstan has not adopted additional unilateral sanctions that the United States, the European Union and some of their allies are imposing outside the United Nations (Trend, February 7).
Kazakhstan’s role in supporting the February 25 meeting in Almaty is especially important given that Iran had recently rejected proposed talks in Istanbul on January 28–29, 2013, presumably due to irritation with Turkey’s efforts to overthrow Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria (Hurriyet Daily News, February 3). In addition, on February 7, Iran’s Supreme Leader ruled out engaging in direct nuclear talks with the United States. The Western governments were unenthusiastic about Iranian proposals to hold the negotiations in Egypt, Turkmenistan or some other countries suggested by Iranians (Trend, February 5).
Altay Abibullayev, a spokesperson for the Kazakhstani president’s Central Communications Service, pledged to establish most favorable conditions to achieve a successful outcome to the talks (Tengrinews, February 4). Kazakhstani analysts consider Astana’s upcoming role a major diplomatic achievement (Zona.KZ, February 5).
Astana’s motives in hosting the talks are straightforward. Kazakhstani officials want to play a major role in world affairs, especially in the sphere of nuclear arms control and disarmament. Kazakhstan rapidly eliminated all the nuclear weapons and related infrastructure that the country inherited from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, Kazakhstan has hosted major conferences against nuclear weapons testing and related issues. Kazakhstan also recently chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and other major international institutions. It also launched a Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building in Asia (CICA) and is seeking to be elected as a rotating member of the UN Security Council starting in 2016.
Furthermore, Kazakhstani officials see little to gain and much to lose from a war involving Iran and the West. Such a conflict could disrupt regional economic development, lead Iran to retaliate against neighboring states, spur the growth of Islamist extremism and terrorism, and create risks of even more untoward developments. Kazakhstani leaders do not object to Iran’s pursuit of an internationally monitored civil nuclear energy program, as permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but oppose any Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
Kazakhstani leaders urge Western countries and Iran to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations. In December 2012, Nazarbayev stressed that “a solution to this problem is possible only through diplomatic methods” (tengrinews.kz. December 12, 2012). Yet, Kazakhstani officials have insisted that Iran must not pursue nuclear weapons. In November 2011, Nazarbayev cited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concerns about some hidden dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program to argue, “That is why it is necessary to continue negotiations and request Iran to let the IAEA inspectors see all the facilities so that they can prove to the whole world that Iran is indeed working peacefully,” the president noted (TengriNews, November 21, 2012)
Astana also encourages Tehran to follow Kazakhstan’s model of complete abstention from nuclear weapons activities. In March 25, 2012, Nazarbayev published an op-ed in the New York Times on “What Iran Can Learn From Kazakhstan.” Recalling how Kazakhstan has prospered since renouncing the nuclear weapons capabilities it inherited from the Soviet Union, the author wrote that, “Kazakhstan has used its close diplomatic relations with our neighbor across the Caspian Sea to urge Tehran to learn from our example.”
The relationship between Iran and Kazakhstan is very pragmatic. Kazakhstan seeks to prevent Iran from causing regional instability through its nuclear program or support of regional terrorism while looking for opportunities to expand economic ties and reduce tensions between Iran and its neighbors. Since Iran is internationally isolated, Tehran seeks to maintain good relations with Astana, whose international influence has risen during the past decade, and ideally to find opportunities for regional trade and investment as well as discourage Kazakhstan from supporting military operations against Iran. The agreement for Astana to host this month’s next round of nuclear talks is, thus, a natural outgrowth of the Iranian-Kazakhstani bilateral relationship.