KAZAKHSTAN: Preparing to seal a strategic alliance with the US
Thomas Cromwell

On July 6, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, was in Washington to prepare for a fall visit by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Between meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, and a speech at John’s Hopkins SAIS, he took time to sit down with DiplomaticTraffic.com to discuss the agenda for the visit and recent developments in Kazakhstan, including its growing importance as a leader in Central Asia and its bid to join the World Trade Organization and chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. Excerpts follow:

President Nazarbayev’s visit

A major purpose of my visit to the United States was to prepare for the visit of our president this fall. It is a very important event for Kazakhstan and for the strategic partnership between our countries. Kazakhstan and the United States are cooperating in many areas: in disarmament; in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we sent a contingent, and other important areas. We are very hopeful about the upcoming visit of our president. We believe it should be successful provided both countries are active in preparing the issues for discussion.

This visit can serve as a milestone, because we want to summarize the major results achieved over the past 15 years. The United States was the first country in the world to recognize our independence and the first to open an embassy in Kazakhstan. We appreciate this, and of course the United States is a priority for Kazakhstan, and we will do our best to sustain the cooperation between our two countries.

Kazakhstan as linchpin of Central Asia

Kazakhstan has been recognized as a leader in Central Asia. This leadership is based on concrete results in its economic development, first of all. The GDP of Kazakhstan is larger than the economies of all the other Central Asian countries put together. Kazakhstan is rich in terms of natural resources, but the secret of Kazakhstan’s success is that we have pursued structural reforms. We were the first post-Soviet country to be recognized as a market economy. Our financial sector is recognized as advanced. So we have a number of achievements.

At the same time we are strongly promoting regional cooperation. We believe that the destiny of Central Asia is to have more and closer cooperation, first of all in trade and economic areas. I think Kazakhstan is pursuing a comprehensive and balanced policy towards our neighbors, encouraging them to be involved in trade and economic ties. We encourage them to pursue reforms. In this respect, Kazakhstan wants to sustain its leadership and remain a step ahead of other countries.

Energy export policies

From our perspective, it is desirable to have as many pipelines as possible. It is our strategy to have a multiple network of pipelines and outlets. In this respect, Kazakhstan has been quite successful. We have built a huge oil pipeline to the Russian seaport of Novosibirsk, with a capacity of 60 million tons a year; we have built a pipeline to China; we have signed an agreement with Russia to use pipelines across its territory to export not less than 50m tons of oil a year; and we have joined the strategic Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline, which is being supported by the United States administration. So there are a lot of opportunities to ship oil to the outside world.

At the same time, Kazakhstan is not only rich in oil and gas. People talk a lot about Kazakhstan’s hydrocarbons, but they constitute only 30 percent of our state budget and only 17 percent of our GDP. Kazakhstan is the fifth largest producer of copper in the world, the second largest producer of chromium, it will be one of the top five uranium producers in the world and number five in wheat exports. So we have quite a number of opportunities beyond hydrocarbons.

Balancing great power interests

Our goal is to have very predictable, stable relationships with all countries. We have excellent relations with Russia. We have very solid and predictable relations with China. We have a very good relationship with our neighbors in Central Asia. And of course we are delighted to have a strategic partnership with the United States. Our priorities include the European Union. We want to be a good friend of the Muslim states, first of all in the Middle East. So I think Kazakhstan is quite lucky to have a balanced and comprehensive policy towards all the countries concerned.

Kazakhstan hosted the second summit of the Congress on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). It was very successful because all the major leaders from China, Russia, Pakistan, India – 18 countries in all – came to Almaty to talk about security and cooperation measures in Asia. This conference plays a very important role as a bridge among competing states in Asia. It is the single platform in the world where countries like Israel and Iran are sitting at the same table and talking to each other, not to mention Palestine, which is also a member. India and Pakistan find this congress a very good platform for exchanging views on their relations. I believe Kazakhstan plays an important role in bringing together countries that are not on good terms with each other.

Helping bridge the Muslim-West divide

Kazakhstan is a secular state, although 65 percent of the population consider themselves Muslims. At the same time we have over 100 ethnic groups and 45 religions in Kazakhstan. This September we are hosting the second summit of the leaders of the world religions. All find Kazakhstan a very comfortable and proper place to pursue a dialogue on tolerance and peace among religions. Kazakhstan demonstrates its ability to sustain peace, tolerance and accord within the country. We have a number of religions but at the same time we are quite tolerant.

US support on WTO membership and OSCE chairmanship

Washington is quite supportive of Kazakhstan’s effort to join the WTO. There are of course some difficult issues to deal with, but we are very grateful for US support. At the same time, the United States is supportive of our effort to chair the OSCE. Of course a lot of other countries are seeking this position, but Kazakhstan being recognized by the US as a leader in Central Asia, as a country pursuing economic and political reforms, and we appreciate this.

Implementing TIFA

We are not talking about a free trade agreement with the United States for now, but we are talking about the implementation of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which was signed two years ago but has not gone beyond a paper agreement. We agree with the United States that this agreement should be implemented to increase trade and investment in the Central Asia region. In fact, in about a week Kazakhstan will host regional and US delegations for major discussions under the TIFA framework.


Biography of Kassymzhomart Tokaev
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Kassymzhomart Tokaev was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan in June 2003.

Before that, he served as Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs from January 2002.

From October 1999 to January 2002, Mr. Tokaev served as Kazakhstan's Prime Minister overseeing the beginning of the rapid economic growth Kazakhstan has been enjoying since 2000.

Mr. Tokaev served as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs from March to October 1999, being in charge of international political and economic cooperation, attraction of foreign investment, relations with the CIS countries and export control. Before that he was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan from October 1994 to March 1999.

In 1992-1994 he worked as Deputy Foreign Minister, then First Deputy Foreign Minister.

Mr. Tokaev studied at the Diplomatic Academy of the MFA of Russia in Moscow from 1991 to 1992.

From 1985 to 1991 he served in the Embassy of the USSR in China.

Mr. Tokaev worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR in 1984-1985 and in 1979-1983. In the meantime, he studied at the Beijing Linguistic Institute in 1983-84.

From 1975 to 1979 he served in the Embassy of the USSR in Singapore.

Mr. Tokaev graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1975.

Mr. Tokaev has a Ph.D. in History and a diplomatic rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. He has authored a number of books, including How It Was: Chronicles of Disturbances in China (April-June 1989) (1993), United Nations: 50 Years of Service to Peace (1995), Under the Flag of Independence (Historic essays of foreign policy of Kazakhstan) (1997), "Foreign Policy of Kazakhstan in the process of globalization" (2000), "Meeting the Challenge" (2003) and a variety of articles on international issues.

Mr. Tokaev has been awarded the Orders of Parasat and Astana.

He is fluent in English, Chinese and French.

Mr. Tokaev was born in Almaty in 1953. He is married with one son.