Tags: U.S. | Promotes | Ties | With | Oil-Rich | Kazakhstan

U.S. Promotes Ties With Oil-Rich Kazakhstan

Monday, 25 September 2006 12:00 AM

NEW YORK -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met the foreign minister of Kazakhstan Monday to cement closer ties with the oil-rich former Soviet state which opposition groups say blocks democratic reforms.

The meeting laid the ground for a visit to Washington by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who will meet President Bush Friday and spend time with the president's father at their holiday home in Maine.

Rice stressed that Washington wanted "a multidimensional relationship with Kazakhstan, which includes U.S. encouragement of continuing reforms in Kazakhstan," a senior State Department official said after Rice met Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev.

The United States has been only mildly critical of Kazakhstan's human rights record, not wanting to upset its government as Washington competes with Russia for influence in Central Asia, a key gas and oil producing region.

The opposition in Kazakhstan accuses the West of putting Kazakhstan's oil before democracy. When restrictions were imposed on the media this year, Washington issued a weak rebuke of the action.

Nazarbayev has been in power in the vast former Soviet republic, which stretches from the Caspian Sea to China and is bigger than Western Europe, since 1989.

He was elected for a third presidential term last December in a vote judged to be flawed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Kazakhstan is lobbying hard to secure the annual Chairmanship-in-Office of the OSCE in 2009 but there is opposition by some nations to such a move until the country takes further steps to improve its democracy record.

"Both sides pledged to continue discussing Kazakhstan's desire to assume the OSCE chairmanship in the coming years," said the State Department official, without indicating whether the United States would support such a move.

He said Rice and Tokayev also discussed efforts to integrate Afghanistan into regional Central Asian economies and the Kazakh minister pledged to continue his country's help to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The main opposition parties in Kazakhstan have been shaken by the killing of leading opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly in February.

They say he was the victim of a political assassination, but a court ruled last month that a former senior civil servant ordered the killing to settle a personal score.

Rice visited Kazakhstan nearly a year ago and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney went there in May to promote new oil export routes that bypass Russia. He praised Kazakhstan's democratic developments while attacking Russia's record.

Soon after his visit, Kazakhstan officially joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline - a U.S.-backed project to transport Caspian oil to Mediterranean markets.

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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NEW YORK -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met the foreign minister of Kazakhstan Monday to cement closer ties with the oil-rich former Soviet state which opposition groups say blocks democratic reforms. The meeting laid the ground for a visit to Washington by...
U.S.,Promotes,Ties,With,Oil-Rich,Kazakhstan
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2006-00-25
Monday, 25 September 2006 12:00 AM
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