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Conference of the Senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan
"International Cooperation of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Reality, Objectives and Prospects"

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by U.S Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway

"The U.S.-Kazakhstani Strategic Partnership:
A Promising Future Based on 15 Years of Impressive Accomplishments"

Astana, Kazakhstan
March 13, 2007

Ambassador Ordway: Mr. Speaker, distinguished guests. It is both an honor and a pleasure to join you today for this discussion. I’d like to begin by paying tribute to the new speaker of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich, for taking the initiative to convene us here today. We Americans have had the pleasure of working with him from the very beginning of our bilateral relationship 15 years ago. All of my predecessors as Ambassador to Kazakhstan have called him a friend as well as a colleague, and I am delighted that I have had the opportunity to do so both as Foreign Minister and now as Speaker of the Senate.

Let me begin by offering a few thoughts, and some historical perspective, on the respective roles our two Senates before turning to the strategic partnership that is the foundation of our bilateral relationship: how it is developing and what its prospects are.

The U.S. Congress is a unique institution that has evolved and developed for over 200 years. It is above all an independent body that answers to no one but its own voters, and a body that works on its own schedule and internal dynamic. That schedule and dynamic can frequently make it challenging for the institution, and its members, to engage in what I would term “parliamentary diplomacy” in the same way virtually every other parliament in the world does. The weekly schedule of a typical senator or congressman is almost always the same: be present for votes in Washington, and spend as much time as possible in their home districts or states to meet with their electorate. There are two exceptions to that rule: during recess members frequently travel abroad, and when campaigning for President they travel all around the U.S. Today, the Senate is in session, and at last count at least seven of the 100 senators are campaigning for President. As a result, you will have to settle for an American Ambassador rather than an American senator to address you today.

Today in Kazakhstan we are living in a time when issues of political and democratic reform have come to the fore. President Nazarbayev has spoken publicly and often about the need to engage in the reform effort. Commissions have studied the issues, citizens and public parties spoken out, and at the moment laws are being drafted and constitutional provisions being examined. We Americans had a similar moment in 1787, eleven years after declaring independence. One of the key debates of that convention was to role and function of the upper house of the legislature-to-be. There was a vigorous debate between the representatives of the big, populous states who preferred to have representation in the legislature based on population, and the smaller states who feared big-state domination and pushed hard for equal representation from each state. Another debate was between those who were for vigorous popular democracy and a legislature directly elected by the people, and those who rejected this idea and wanted indirect elections that would “temper” the passions of the masses. Another, somewhat less important debate, was over how frequently to have elections: often to account for rapid changes in public opinion, or less frequently to develop expertise and more “sober judgments.” In the end, the U.S. Senate was created as a compromise, a counter balance to the House of Representatives. It was based on the principle of equal representation for each state regardless of population; it was not elected by the people but by the state legislatures; and its members were elected for six-year terms. We switched to popular election of Senators in 1914, but the other two principles remain and distinguish our Senate from the House of Representatives to this day.

I think some of the similarities between the original U.S. Senate and the Senate in Kazakhstan are obvious, but there are profound differences, as well. It is not for me to recommend how, or even whether, to reform the Senate in Kazakhstan. I can only wish you success as you consider the role and structure of the Kazakhstani Senate, and how it can contribute to further democratization in an increasingly mature political system.

Let me now turn to our bilateral relationship.

The U.S. and Kazakhstan have enjoyed 15 years of dynamic and growing partnership. We have worked closely and cooperatively with the Republic of Kazakhstan, starting on December 25, 1991 when Secretary of State James Baker visited Almaty to meet with Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev and establish diplomatic relations between our two countries. The United States thus became the first country to recognize Kazakhstan and to enter into diplomatic relations.

From the very first days, our relationship focused on helping Kazakhstan play a leading role on the world stage. Initially, our concerns were focused on the nuclear consequences of the break-up of the USSR, which saw newly independent Kazakhstan inheriting responsibility for a broad array of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The first visit I made to Kazakhstan was in January 1992 with a senior interagency delegation that began working with the Kazakhstani leadership on establishing its own controls over those items and to regulate their export. This aspect of our relationship developed very rapidly as we worked together to create a political basis that would allow Kazakhstan to renounce nuclear weapons, and to eliminate those weapons and their delivery systems. We have had no better partner than Kazakhstan in this endeavor, and this country serves as a model to the world of how a country can gain and not lose security as a result of ridding itself of nuclear weapons. Our cooperation is continuing and developing in this area as we meet the new proliferation challenges of the 21st century, most notably in the area of preventing bio-terrorism.

The American government and the American private sector have also worked from the very beginning on developing Kazakhstan’s immense energy resources on an open, transparent, competitive basis that helps supply the world’s energy needs while meeting Kazakhstan’s economic and development challenges. As Kazakhstan has developed and moved on to tackle a growing range of challenges, our bilateral relationship has grown accordingly. We now work together on everything from health care to the political system. Economic reform, supported by American technical assistance in a variety of areas, has now set the stage for Kazakhstan to launch a realistic, achievable goal of being one of the 50 most competitive economies in the world.

Ours is a strategic partnership, based on a shared strategic vision and common goals. This was a core theme of President Nazarbayev’s official visits to Washington in December 2001 and September 2006. Although our strong and growing counter-terrorist cooperation is one extremely important facet of this strategic partnership, it would be a mistake to see it as the sum total: we do much more together. And what we do is not only strategic, it is based on mutual respect, continuous communication, and interactions that allow each country to contribute to and benefit from the relationship, in different but equally significant ways. The U.S. has, for example, helped Kazakhstan address the myriad challenges it has faced in the wake of independence, from the need to secure its borders to the need to create a functioning market economy. Kazakhstan, in turn, has shown itself to be a stalwart partner in everything from its reliability as an energy producer to its decision to forego its nuclear arsenal to its contributions to stability operations in Iraq.

We in the United States believe that Kazakhstan has the potential to play an even larger role in Central Asia and beyond, with its dynamic economy, and the excellent example it sets in areas such as ethnic and religious tolerance. Kazakhstan needs to defend and build on these strong achievements that are fundamental to combating terrorism and extremism in today’s world. Kazakhstan is now a strong contributor to the economic development of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and beyond as a result of its strong banking system and it growing potential to invest abroad. As the Kazakhstani economy continues its impressive growth, this process will continue and help spur growth in neighboring countries and, we hope, create momentum to lower barriers to regional trade and investment.

Kazakhstan has long-standing and very strong economic ties with Russia and the other states of the CIS. Its economic ties with the countries of the European Union are strong and growing rapidly, as are the economic ties with China. To the south, however, these links are weak. Trade and investment in the rest of Central Asia is insignificant compared to other vectors. Ignoring the southern direction could be very costly, since it leads to large and very rapidly developing economies in Pakistan and especially India. I am the first to acknowledge that the challenges to the south are great indeed, and particularly in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been transformed from a source of destabilizing terror into a country that has some real promise. However, while the threat to Central Asia of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has faded, it has not been eliminated, and the export of narcotics has if anything gotten worse. There is a challenge to all of us in the world community to support a stable and economically developing Afghanistan. I would suggest that this challenge is even more acute for the governments of Central Asia, who are Afghanistan’s near neighbors. It is thus with great satisfaction that we applaud the government of Kazakhstan’s interest in contributing to the development of Afghanistan as a stable and prosperous neighbor. We are encouraged by reports of Kazakhstani investments that are already underway, and by the Kazakhstani government’s increasing focus on the issue. Having undertaken such sweeping and successful reforms at home, Kazakhstan has valuable expertise to share with others and the proven capability to plan and implement reform programs.

I would also like to say a few words about defense reform. We are very proud of our bilateral cooperation in this area, where we have worked closely with Kazakhstan as it transforms the military the country inherited at independence into a modern, well-equipped force which enables the country to defend its national territory and address the threats of the 21st century. Today, those threats can only be met by nations acting together. Kazakhstan has made a very significant contribution to coalition efforts in Iraq, as envisaged by UN Security Council resolutions. Kazakhstani engineers continue to play an important role in Iraq, and we very much value the contribution they are making. This group is part of Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping battalion, KazBat, which continues to gain invaluable experience and achieve new levels of interoperability as a result of its experience in Iraq. KazBat is currently expanding into KazBrig and this will enable Kazakhstan to play an even greater role in the future, possibly even in future peace support operations. We have both gained from our mutual cooperation in the War on Terrorism and we hope this cooperation will continue into the future

Energy was one of the first building blocks of our bilateral relationship. As the Soviet Union was beginning to dissolve, U.S. energy firms took what at the time was an economic and political risk and invested in oil and gas development in Kazakhstan. This risk paid off, producing a partnership between a stable, responsible government that respects contracts, and international energy firms with the necessary capital and expertise to unlock Kazakhstan’s energy riches. American and other international firms, along with Kazakhstan’s own national companies, have together placed the country on a stable financial footing. The Kazakhstani government’s wise decision to create an offshore National Fund has served to protect the country against inflation and to ensure that oil revenues are invested for the future of Kazakhstan’s people.

There are other key steps that remain to be taken to fully ensure Kazakhstan’s long-term stability and prosperity. President Nazarbayev has often spoken about the three goals he set for the country when Kazakhstan became independent: to build the true sovereignty and independence, to get the economy right, and to liberalize the political system. I think we can all agree that Kazakhstan has achieved the first two goals in an impressive fashion, even though the country still faces challenges such as economic diversification. We can also agree with President Nazarbayev’s recent statements, both at the Democratization Commission meeting and during his annual address, about the need to move on to the third stage, political reform.

This is a courageous and farsighted decision. A more open and dynamic political system will reflect the political maturity of the country, and provide the institutional basis to continue for the long-term stability, predictability, and development that are valued so highly by the people of Kazakhstan. Modern, mature, democratic institutions and practices can help assure that the people of Kazakhstan will control the future of their country, and to improving the effectiveness of the legislative and executive branches. I also believe that in Kazakhstan you will see the same benefits of political openness that other countries have experienced, where greater political activism brings a greater sense of civic duty and national identity. Kazakhstan will also benefit from the genuine stability that comes from deeply-rooted institutions and political structures that are flexible enough to adapt to changing times and circumstances.

Greater political openness can also help Kazakhstan tap into the dynamism of its people and compete effectively on the world stage. After two and a half years in this country, I am convinced that the creativity and industriousness of the Kazakhstani people are among of the country’s greatest natural resources. If the Kazakhstani political system can be adjusted to unleash that potential and allow every citizen to help address the challenges facing their communities, the results will be truly remarkable.

Let us be frank with each other: there are still many serious problems hampering Kazakhstan’s development, from corruption to inefficient bureaucracy to growing threats such as narcotics trafficking. We also hear important voices calling for greater independence of the media and the judiciary, and an electoral system that ensures fair elections that fully meet international standards. The goals are important, the challenges are not insurmountable, but the experience of other countries shows that a top-down solution will not work. The engagement and effort of all sectors of society will be necessary.

This is why I believe it is particularly appropriate for us to be discussing these issues today in the Senate of Kazakhstan’s distinguished parliament. With your counterparts in the Mazhilis, Senators will play a crucial role in shaping the draft legislation on political reform that the working group established by President Nazarbayev is going to put forward. Through debates and public hearings, the Senate can take the first step toward greater political openness by ensuring that the results are based on an active program of considering the opinions of all political factions and segments of society. The legislative process itself will be the first test and the first opportunity in this new stage of reform.

The United States has worked in partnership with the government and people of Kazakhstan on every step of the road since independence, and we stand ready to continue that cooperation as you embark on this next step. We agree completely with President Nazarbayev when he says that every country must find its own path, and its own pace, as it refines its political system. There is no one single model of democracy, and there is no end to the process: 231 years after independence, in the U.S. we are still constantly looking for ways to make our government more efficient and more responsive to its citizens.

The U.S. has realistic expectations, and fully appreciates the magnitude of moving forward with political reform. At the same time, as strategic partners we have a commitment to one another to speak openly and frankly about issues like this. We look forward to hearing an open and spirited debate, to seeing concrete reform proposals that will maximize the potential of every citizen of Kazakhstan, and to an ongoing, open dialogue with our Kazakhstani counterparts about the path you are choosing.

Mr. Speaker, Kazakhstan in an important country and a significant partner for the United States. We have worked together closely for 15 years and established a close, strategic working relationship. I can assure you that we will continue our efforts with the Republic of Kazakhstan in the future when we build an even deeper, mutually beneficial strategic partnership.

Thank you again for inviting me to take part in today’s discussion.




Embassy of the United States