Thank you, Rector Sydykov, for the kind introduction. It is a pleasure to address all of you today, and an honor to be here at the prestigious Eurasian National University on my first visit to Astana.
As I look out on this audience, with many of Kazakhstan’s best and brightest students, I am filled with optimism for this country’s future. Kazakhstan has a rich past as the geographic and historical crossroads between East and West. But I am most excited when I think about Kazakhstan’s future, and the role you will play in building that future, whether as captains of commerce and industry, politicians, or diplomats, to make our world more secure, more connected, and more prosperous.
Your country is already a leader in this region, and it has set ambitious goals and is making impressive efforts to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. The United States has been a strong supporter of Kazakhstan’s leadership role, as President Obama underscored in his meeting with President Nazarbayev last week. The United States and Kazakhstan have an ambitious agenda together, to seize the opportunities of the 21st century and address its challenges, whether it’s building an inclusive and open trade architecture in the region and the world, spurring sustainable economic growth, mitigating climate change, or preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We want all this because a strong, independent, and vibrant Kazakhstan will only strengthen the security and prosperity of the Kazakhstani people, the broader Central Asian region, and the American people.
Our two countries share a vision – of a more connected and integrated region. Today the world is connected like never before. The world’s peoples, businesses, economies, governments, and ideas are more linked with one another than at any point in human history. The world can no longer be divided into blocs or spheres of influence. That interconnected world isn’t just a reality to which every nation must adapt, it is also fundamentally in all of our interests, because a more connected and interdependent world is also a more secure and prosperous one.
It is this principle which underpins America’s rebalance to Asia – the belief that America’s security and prosperity are increasingly linked to the challenges and opportunities facing the emerging economies of Asia and that we can advance our collective security and prosperity by working together to address common challenges, and in so doing create greater opportunity for all of our peoples.
And no country in this region stands to gain more from that vision, or is better positioned to help make it a reality, than Kazakhstan. Kazakhstanis understand the importance of connectivity and openness, and that’s been a vital part of Kazakhstan’s success. You recognized early on that, for a land-locked country at the heart of Eurasia, geography could be a blessing – or a curse. And you’ve chosen to seize the opportunity, not only to make Kazakhstan the hub of a network of trade and transport that spans from east to west and north to south, but also to make this region, historically among the least integrated in the world, a more connected and prosperous place. The Kazakhstan of tomorrow is one that will have strong links and growing trade with Europe and Asia; it will provide energy to the teeming markets of India and China; and it will build a knowledge economy connected to global knowledge hubs. This is not America’s vision. This is Kazakhstan’s vision. This is what your government and leaders have projected, a diversified, sustainable, modern economy. And it is a vision that America shares and wants to help usher in, through educational partnerships, through business and trade relations, and through our development programs.
It’s been said that Kazakhstan has “powerful neighbors and distant friends.” Well, let me be clear: the United States may be distant geographically, but our partnership is growing closer every day, and I’m committed to bringing us even closer together. And one of the best ways we can do that is by creating even more opportunities to bring our brightest minds together.
Kazakhstan recognized early on the importance of investing in young minds, establishing the Bolashak program that has awarded over 10,000 scholarships to educate Kazakhstani students abroad over the last twenty years – in the United States, in Europe, and in Asia. We are incredibly impressed with the students who have already risen to leadership positions in the public and private sectors. We are pleased, of course, that many of those in the Bolashak program studied in the United States. And we look forward to welcoming many more of them.
We share Kazakhstan’s commitment to developing its human capital, whether through education or people-to-people exchanges. Kazakhstan’s people are global citizens, facing global challenges and global opportunities. In particular, Kazakhstani youth are coming of age at a unique moment in history. They are connected and engaged in ways their parents never could have predicted, through social media, travel, and commerce. It is their energy, creativity, and hard work that will shape the story of Kazakhstan in the 21st century.
We are proud to play our part in this unfolding story, having hosted many Kazakhstani students who have since returned to serve their country. And through partnerships with the Eurasian National University and other Kazakhstani universities, American institutions such as Pittsburgh State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, and the University of Wisconsin have worked with Kazakhstani educational leaders to broaden the availability of high-level instruction in Kazakhstan. I believe that Kazakhstan has benefited from this exchange, and I can assure you that whether in the boardroom or the classroom, Americans have also gained from the interaction between our peoples. Whether through musical performances of the dombra, or through English-language translations of Olzhas Suleimenov’s poetry, Kazakhstan has enriched American cultural life.
Our common recognition of the importance of investing in human capital and the strength of our people-to-people links are two of the essential ingredients in the extraordinary progress we’ve seen in our partnership. After the United States became the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, our two nations built a foundation of mutual trust, working together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Through Kazakhstan’s renunciation of its nuclear arsenal – the fourth largest in the world at the time – this new member of the community of nations earned respect from around the world for its commitment to strengthening global security and respect for international norms. And Kazakhstan’s hosting of the P5+1 talks with Iran twice last year was key to the international community’s efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the issue of Tehran’s nuclear program. We deeply appreciate Kazakhstan’s role in helping make this breakthrough possible, and we will continue to welcome Kazakhstan’s engagement on difficult but important global issues.
Afghanistan is an outstanding example of Kazakhstan’s growing regional engagement and leadership. In just a few days, millions of Afghans will go to the polls to vote for their next President and choose the direction of their country’s future. These elections will provide an opportunity for the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history, opening the path to greater development, prosperity, and stability. Kazakhstan should be proud of its contribution to Afghanistan’s future: Kazakhstan is attracting university students from across Central and South Asia and has committed over $50 million in funding for Afghan men and women to study at Kazakhstani universities. That’s just one example of Kazakhstan’s ambitious efforts in support of Afghanistan’s security, economic, and political transitions, including hosting the Heart of Asia Ministerial in Almaty last year; co-chairing the Istanbul Process Confidence Building Measure on Disaster Management; opening of a trade office in Kabul; contribution to the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces; and establishment of an aid agency focusing on Afghanistan and Central Asia. The establishment of KazAID is more than just a testament to how far Kazakhstan has come in a short period. I am confident, having had the pleasure a few months ago of meeting many of the impressive Kazakhstanis who are working hard to make KazAID a reality, that it will make a real impact in Afghanistan and beyond.
A core objective underpinning our efforts in Afghanistan is to support a sovereign, independent, stable, and secure country that has good relations with all of its neighbors and is able to provide opportunity for its people. That is also what we want for the countries of the region. This basic but vital notion – that states should not make decisions at the expense of their neighbors, or re-draw borders through the use of force, simply because they are larger or more powerful – must be the very foundation for respectful and mutually beneficial relationships between states in the 21st century.
Today, the world is watching events in Ukraine with grave concern. The United States and the international community are committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and helping the Ukrainian people build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country they deserve. We believe that the only way to resolve the crisis is through diplomacy and de-escalation of military tensions. We will continue to work with the United Nations, our European partners, the OSCE, as well as Russia to find a peaceful path forward that upholds international law and norms. We believe that the people of Ukraine, like the other peoples of this region, should not have to choose between friendly relations with Russia and broad ties to the rest of the world. As President Obama has said, “we want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny, and to have good relations with the United States, with Russia, with Europe, with anyone that they choose.”
We also want that for Kazakhstan, for Central Asia, and for all of our partners around the world.
So let me conclude by urging you to become a part of this undertaking – of building a strong, sovereign, and prosperous Kazakhstan, exercising vital leadership to shape a more secure, more connected, and more prosperous region and world. If you have not been abroad, let me urge you to take the first opportunity to travel – whether it is to the United States, China, India, Europe, or elsewhere. You, the students, are the guarantors of Kazakhstan’s global future. I look forward to not only hearing about your endeavors to build that future, but also to working with you to realize the promise of our partnership. Thank you.