The upcoming high-level meeting of Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul will further strengthen the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States, according to Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan's Ambassador to the U.S.
"Twenty years ago, the United States was the first country to politically recognize independent Kazakhstan and to provide the shoulder for our development. And I was the witness of this development of this relationship, and I can tell that the U.S. has provided a very strong, reliable shoulder for all avenues of our growth," Idrissov told Silk Road Newsline in an interview. "We can be very proud and happy to see the blossoming of relationship in many areas, starting from global and regional security, political cooperation, economic and trade relations, cultural, people-to-people contacts, public diplomacy. On all avenues, U.S. and Kazakhstan have become a very strong partnership. And the future only tells that this partnership is destined to grow and become stronger and stronger." Silk Road Newsline reports.
The "2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit" is scheduled for March 26-27 in Seoul, South Korea. The Summit, which will bring together some 50 world leaders, including Nazarbayev and Obama, will focus on such areas of discussion as cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, protection of nuclear materials and related facilities and prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. The Seoul Summit will build on the results of the successful first Nuclear Security Summit convened by Obama in 2010 in Washington.
According to Idrissov, nuclear cooperation between Kazakhstan and the U.S. will feature prominently on the agenda of the Nazarbayev-Obama meeting.
"This relationship between Kazakhstan and the United States in the nuclear sphere continues to develop and it has many avenues, it has turned into an area of biological weapons, chemical weapons. Therefore, this has been widely recognized that Kazakhstan is a leader in nuclear disarmament, non-nuclear, non-proliferation," the Kazakh ambassador said. "President Obama highlighted the presence of President Nazarbayev at the First Nuclear Summit here in Washington D.C. two years ago, and of course, we look forward to a meeting and successful summit in Seoul, Second Nuclear Summit in Seoul, we're looking forward to our meeting with President Obama. And I'm hopeful that both presidents will have very nice stories to tell to the participants of the Nuclear Summit, which will make our world much safer place to live."
Kazakhstan's nuclear policy, Idrissov stressed, earned his country deep respect in the U.S.
"In fact, actually, nuclear cooperation was the first page of our successful relationship because Kazakhstan, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, found itself as a major nuclear power," Idrissov said. "Our nuclear strength combined was bigger than French, Chinese and British put together. Therefore we constituted a major challenge for global politics and everyone was trying to understand what would be the policy of Kazakhstan, because, of course, there were many so-called enticements to keep the nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan, to rattle the weapons and to get so-called perceived strength, but the leadership of Kazakhstan and the wisdom, recognized wisdom of the leader of Kazakhstan, President Nazarbayev was in the denouncing the nuclear heritage of the Soviet Union and there were many reasons for that one being very important, moral reasons because Kazakhstan and Kazakh population suffered a lot from nuclear testing, which was carried out in Soviet days in Kazakhstan."
A total of 467 nuclear tests have been conducted between 1949 and 1989 at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan, including 340 underground and 125 atmospheric tests where at least 616 nuclear bombs and other nuclear charges have been detonated. It is estimated that the radioactive fallout from Semipalatinsk nuclear testing had a direct impact on the health of about 200,000 local residents in Kazakhstan. Semipalatinsk test site was closed on August 29, 1991 by a historical decree No. 409 signed by Nazarbayev.
According to Idrissov, the "second reason was that we wanted to ensure real security for ourselves and real growth for ourselves."
"By announcing the nuclear heritage and by taking the non-nuclear, very-articulate non-nuclear path, we have opened a way for bringing lots of economic cooperation into Kazakhstan. And today we can say that in 20 years because of this policy of openness and non-nuclear security and non-proliferation, we have ensured that more than $150 billion of direct investments flowed into Kazakhstan," he said.
According to a senior official of the Obama administration, Kazakhstan's nuclear policy could serve as a model for other nations.
"I think it is a very powerful image and one of the reasons why the U.S. so highly values its non-proliferation partnership with Kazakhstan is precisely because Kazakhstan has made its own choices for its own reasons. It was not just a matter of looking at what others expected of it. This was a decision that President Nazarbayev took looking at his own understanding of the best long-term path for Kazakhstan. And for others to take that same message, I think, is a very positive one," Dan Poneman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, told an international conference in Washington last month.
"Given Kazakhstan's prominent role as a supplier of uranium for nuclear power plants as well as the large nuclear weapons infrastructure that it inherited following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is not surprising perhaps, especially given the decisions President Nazarbayev has taken, that nuclear security and non-proliferation are bedrock issues in our bilateral relationship," Poneman said. "Together, our nations can continue to make progress toward achieving our shared goals of securing vulnerable nuclear materials, combating illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. And together, Kazakhstan and the United States can continue to work to realize the ultimate vision that President Nazarbayev and President Obama both share, the vision of a world without nuclear weapons."
According to the Washington-based Central Asia Caucasus Institute, the U.S. and Kazakhstan have a long history of cooperation on nuclear security and non-proliferation issues beginning from when President Nazarbayev decided to relinquish the Soviet nuclear weapons inherited by Kazakhstan and to end the nuclear testing in Semipalatinsk. In 1994, the U.S. and Kazakhstan successfully conducted a joint classified operation known as Project Sapphire to remove 600 kilograms of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Kazakhstan to the U.S. In 2010, they cooperated to safely shut down the BN-350 reactor in Aktau and secure 775 nuclear weapons worth of used fuel at the facility and they conducted another joint classified operation to remove and permanently dispose of 33 kilograms of HEU fresh fuel from the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty in 2011.
Both the 2010 and the 2011 operations were part of the national commitments announced by Kazakhstan at the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2010. The other two commitments were to host an international conference on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) which was held in Astana in October 2010 and to consider establishing an international nuclear security training center in Kazakhstan. On February 16, 2012, officials from the U.S. and Kazakhstan met in Astana to discuss ways they can work together to prevent nuclear smuggling and to strengthen international and regional cooperation in order to investigate and prosecute persons and groups who attempt to engage in nuclear smuggling. Two sides agreed to develop a regional training Center for countering nuclear threats in Kazakhstan, which would encompass existing cooperation and develop further capacity in the area of countering nuclear smuggling.