Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 107

President Nursultan Nazarbaev returned on May 27 from an official visit to the Gulf States during which he did his best to attract fresh investment for his country. Kazakhstan has an embassy in Saudi Arabia and economic representation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but maintains no other representation in the region. A main aim of Nazarbaev’s latest visit was therefore, like that of his 1997 visit to Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, to attract the attention of other Gulf states to the investment opportunities Kazakhstan has to offer.

The current tour resulted in the signing of bilateral economic agreements with Qatar and the UAE. The UAE offered soft loans to finance roads and irrigation projects, though the loans’ precise terms are still undefined. Saudi Arabia already has substantial investments in housing while Qatar and Oman have put money into oil and gas projects in the republic. Kazakhstan’s new capital city is being built with finance from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. Itar-Tass quoted an unnamed official Kazakhstani source as stating that Kazakhstan is giving “high priority to its relations with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf” and is willing to offer privileges to Arab investors interested in developing oil and gas in the republic. (Itar-Tass, May 23)

Nazarbaev’s visit also had a political dimension. Speaking in Abu Dhabi on May 25, he called for a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement which, he said, must include the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Nazarbaev also stated his opposition to further Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. (Xinhua [Abu Dhabi], May 25)

Overall, Nazarbaev said Kazakhstan was “willing to play a significant role in the Muslim world in the 21st century.” (Russian agencies, May 25) While Kazakhstan has a stated policy of encouraging foreign investment and diplomatic relations with all states, Nazarbaev’s tour of the Gulf states indicates a particular desire to strengthen relations with the Middle East. –SC

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