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Kazakstan Courted by United States

By News Briefing Central Asia
Regular visits by high-level American officials are an indication that Washington regards Kazakstan as its most stable and promising partner in the region, say analysts.

United States senator Richard Lugar, who arrives on August 18 for a three-day visit, will be the third American official to come to Kazakstan in the past few weeks.

At the end of July, Kazakstan received a delegation headed by agriculture secretary Mike Johanns, as well as a visit from Lieutenant-General John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command. As a result, Kazakstan gained additional investment in its agricultural sector, and the prospect of joint security arrangements for its Caspian oil infrastructure.

Abizaid dismissed rumours that the United States intends to open a military base in Kazakstan, although he added that the two countries plan to cooperate in developing Kazakstan’s Caspian naval forces. But this will not require a physical US military presence; rather, it will involve joint training within the NATO framework plus American investment in the Kazak navy.

Some analysts suggest that Lugar’s visit may be linked to military matters. Lugar was one of the most active proponents of dismantling the nuclear arsenal in the former Soviet republics, including Kazakstan. However, observers are not inclined to connect Lugar’s arrival with US fears of Russian-Kazak cooperation on nuclear energy, saying that Kazakstan will adhere to all its obligations.

After the closure of the US military base in Uzbekistan, the diplomatic scandal surrounding the expulsion of two American citizens from Kyrgyzstan, and threats from Bishkek that the Manas air base may be shut down, Kazakstan is the only predictable partner the United States has in the region. Regular - and frequent - official visits are designed to strengthen the relationship, analysts say.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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