When Erzhan Kazykhanov, Kazakhstan’s new ambassador to the United States, met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in April to present his credentials, Trump was unequivocal in his optimism about the U.S.-Kazakh relationship.
The American president presented Kazykhanov with a letter praising Kazakhstan’s peaceful society and its global leadership in nuclear non-proliferation. He also lauded the country’s stable business climate and said he was “proud of our strategic partnership.”
“I look forward to working with you to deepen the already close relations between our two countries,” Trump told the ambassador. “The United States firmly supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Kazakhstan and our deep cooperation is reflected by the great success that U.S. companies have had in Kazakhstan.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, went to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, in March to praise the Central Asian nation.
“With over 25 years of Kazakhstan’s independence, that country has become a valued member of the international community,” the congressman said. “Its commitment to building a relationship with the United States has resulted in stronger ties and a strategic partnership rooted in shared interests.”
Kazykhanov told EdgeKz that both American leaders’ congratulatory and friendly words reflect a longstanding bilateral success story between the two countries.
“The strategic partnership that Kazakhstan and the United States have built in the course of the past twenty-five years has matured into a strong bond of mutual trust, commitment and genuine friendship that both countries are truly proud of,” Kazykhanov said. “Astana and Washington share a common vision on many important issues of global politics. We are looking forward to deepening our bilateral relations.”
Asked what initiatives, in particular, would be prioritized, Kazykhanov pointed to trade and business.
“With Kazakhstan entering a third phase of modernization and proactively advancing its global competitiveness on the one side of the spectrum, and the United States increasingly pursuing pro-business policy on the other side, the two countries have a solid ground to intensify trade and economic and investment cooperation agenda during the coming months and years,” he said. “Most importantly, we are focusing on meaningful collaborations and mutually beneficial projects aimed at building knowledge-based and modern economy.”
One example is USAID’s recently completed Business Connections program that connects Kazakh businesses with prospective American partners. USAID is a U.S. government agency that works to eradicate global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.
Jonathan Addleton, USAID’s regional mission director for Central Asia based in Almaty, said Central Asia traditionally hasn’t been on the radar for American companies.
“Now we’re opening up direct linkages for both American and Kazakh firms, leading to tremendous benefits for both sides,” he told “Frontlines,” the government agency’s online publication.
In December 2014, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed Kazakhstan’s law on official development assistance, paving the way for the country to form its own international development agency. The organization, provisionally called KazAID, will fall under the policy leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and plans to focus initially on providing bilateral assistance to Central Asian neighbors, including Afghanistan. USAID has actively supported the emergence of KazAID.
Since 2012, the Business Connections program has enabled more than 160 Kazakh entrepreneurs to travel to the United States for training and meetings with dozens of potential partners.
Frederick Starr, the founding Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, told EdgeKz he expects Trump’s administration to take a proactive stance toward Kazakhstan.
“In general, I expect a more positive US stance regarding Kazakhstan, which will open the door to more active ties with all of Central Asia,” Starr said. “As to Kazakhstan’s goals, they continue to stress balanced relations with all major powers, which was difficult during the years when the U.S. ignored Central Asia, and also deepened economic and technological relations with US business.”
In 2015, the nations that comprise Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — created for the first time a joint platform in partnership with the United States to come together and work on issues of mutual concern, the C5+1. Kazykhanov said the young partnership is already beginning to create opportunities.
“Even though C5+1 initiative has been launched only recently, it proved to be an important and meaningful mechanism for improving economic connectivity, addressing the environmental issues, and fostering cooperation in the security sphere,” he told EdgeKz. “Last year Foreign Ministers of the United States and Central Asian countries met in Washington, D.C. and agreed on general projects that remain relevant today. We plan to continue our efforts within this multilateral framework and hope that it will transform into an effective tool for harnessing regional political, economic and security cooperation.”
One of Kazakhstan’s greatest sources of global pride lies in its leadership in the realm of nuclear non-proliferation. After declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan – which served as a nuclear weapons testing ground and repository – voluntarily relinquished them for dismantling them under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program.
“Having dismantled and removed the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, as a wise presidential decision, Kazakhstan indeed is a firm believer that it is through trust-building, dialogue and partnership that we can create a safer and better world,” Kazykhanov said. “Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium and has a well-established nuclear industry infrastructure, with 60 years of experience in nuclear fuel supply.”
“The importance of confidence building in nuclear non-proliferation efforts cannot be undervalued or underestimated,” the ambassador added. “As a well-known American educator and author Stephen Covey used to say, ‘when the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective’.”
Kazykhanov said Kazakhstan aims to continue its leadership in the nuclear area and urged the pursuit of “new stage confidence-building mechanisms and platform,” such as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Low Uranium Enrichment Bank based in Kazakhstan, as well as ratification of the Central Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (also known as Semipalatinsk Treaty).
“Full-fledged American support towards these initiatives could greatly contribute to further strengthening the weapons of mass destruction non-proliferation regime,” he said.
On the subject of Syria, Kazykhanov noted that the Kazakh government in Astana hosted five rounds of peace process talks and helped broker a dialogue between Syrian government and armed opposition.
“During the Astana talks, the guarantor states – Russia, Turkey and Iran – agreed to establish four de-escalation zones in Syria,” he explained. “We hope that long-awaited ceasefire agreement would pave the way for a political solution. We believe that the Astana process is a valuable contribution to the Geneva talks.”
“The United States also supported this process by sending its Acting Assistant Secretary Stuart Jones to the Astana talks,” he added. “For its part, Kazakhstan remains committed to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict and is ready to further provide its platform.”
EdgeKz spoke with Kazykhanov on the same day that he was preparing to leave Washington for a visit to Astana on the eve of EXPO 2017, a massive three-month undertaking that highlights the importance of new energy technologies.
“It is very exciting that EXPO 2017 is taking place when Astana is celebrating its twentieth anniversary as the nation’s capital city,” he said. “The astounding architecture and cutting edge infrastructure of Astana, including the world’s largest spherical building Nur Alem truly represents what my country has been aspiring to achieve through its active modernization efforts.”
“I am grateful to our American friends for their continued support of these efforts,” the ambassador said. “I am also delighted with the mission of the American Pavilion that aims to deliver a very important message that the source of infinite energy is within all of us. The USAP team and all our American partners have done an incredible job at pioneering this knowledge, that it is the energy that fuels our dreams and brings us together to do amazing things.”