Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 227

Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred on December 9 in Astana with President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Foreign Affairs Minister Yerlan Idrisov and military officials of Kazakhstan. Powell handed an invitation from President George W. Bush to Nazarbaev to pay an official visit to the United States starting December 21.

The confidential part of the talks focused on possible support by Kazakhstan for U.S.-led antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan. Nazarbaev reaffirmed the offer to make airfields and military bases in Kazakhstan available to U.S. forces. At the concluding briefing, Powell confirmed that they had discussed “using various facilities, infrastructure and bases in Kazakhstan,” in connection with the “next stage of the campaign in Afghanistan.” That stage is expected to include major reconstruction projects in addition to security measures.

Nazarbaev had originally offered overflight and landing rights to U.S. forces as early as September and repeated the offer several times since. Last month, Kazakh officials disclosed that airfields at Semipalatinsk and Shymkent were being considered for American use. Nazarbaev repeated the offer of airfields and bases while in Moscow for the recent CIS summit (Interfax, November 29-30). After the talks with Powell there was no immediate word on which airfields or what type of U.S. planes are envisioned.

Powell and Nazarbaev discussed the participation of Kazakhstan’s firms and personnel in the postwar rehabilitation of Afghanistan. A number of Asian countries are already vying for a piece of the action in those internationally funded projects. Kazakhstan is the strongest candidate among Central Asia’s countries for such a role. Nazarbaev also underscored to Powell–as had Uzbek President Islam Karimov earlier–the importance of a pacified Afghanistan as an access route for Central Asia via Pakistan to the world ocean.

In reviewing Kazakhstan’s oil export options, Powell and Nazarbaev hailed the recent inauguration of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s Tengiz-Novorossiisk (Russia) route. They registered Kazakhstan’s commitment to channel a part of its future oil exports into the U.S.-supported Baku-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline. And they disagreed about the desirability of an export route via Iran as one among “multiple routes.” Nazarbaev cited the view of some American and West European oil companies in Kazakhstan as favoring an Iranian route to the Persian Gulf for their exports on economic grounds. Powell made clear that the U.S. government continues for security reasons to oppose that choice, and “nothing since September 11 suggests rethinking that policy.”

Careful to strike a balance between U.S. and Russian interests in Central Asia, Nazarbaev counseled during the joint briefing that “any policy of excluding Russia from the solution of international problems would be short-sighted and wrong. That big country, big power should be drawn into these processes.” Kazakhstan’s position on this score is shared to one degree or another by all Central Asian countries. Welcoming the massive entry of the United States in the region, they hope also for a continuing harmonization of U.S. and Russian interests. That would make it unnecessary for the region’s countries to take sides, offering them substantial leeway to cooperate with the United States in the post-September 11, post-Afghan war environment (Habar, Kazakh Commercial Television, Western news agencies, December 9-10; see the Monitor, September 18, 26, November 12, 16, 21; Fortnight in Review, September 28, October 12, November 30).