Ambassador Holbrooke: We’ve just completed some excellent meetings here with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan as part of a trip to the Central Asian republics. We talked to all of the countries that have a concern in the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why we’re here today. Kazakhstan is a very important country in its own right in the region and it’s also directly affected by events in Afghanistan, so it’s natural that I would come here today to consult with the Kazakh government.
Washington Times: Sir, did you talk about the question of Russia setting up defense agreements with Abkhazia?
Ambassador Holbrooke: No.
Washington Times: May I broach that subject now?
Ambassador Holbrooke: The subject of Abkhazia and Georgia never came up. I’m not here to talk about those issues. I’m here to talk about Afghanistan. I’m going from here to Georgia to review the Georgian battalion which is going to Afghanistan, but once again my trip has nothing to do with Georgian-Russian relations, it’s about Georgia’s extraordinarily important contribution to the international effort in Afghanistan.
Reuters: Is the United States planning to open a military base in Uzbekistan to support its operations in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Holbrooke: Uzbekistan does provide us valuable opportunities to transit material to Afghanistan, and that’s important. But a military base? No. We have an important transit center in Kyrgyzstan – the Manas Transit Center – where many of the troops coming in and out of Afghanistan stop, and that’s a very valuable part of our effort. We’re very grateful to Kyrgyzstan for its support in that regard.
Washington Times: Sir, you mentioned several times the importance of Kazakhstan in the region. Can you emphasize a little on that, and why?
Ambassador Holbrooke: First of all, Kazakhstan is the largest, wealthiest, and most successful country in the region. It has directed a multi-directional foreign policy with great skill, under the leadership of President Nazarbayev. It took decisive and historic actions 18 years ago, in regard to nuclear weapons for which the world should be eternally grateful. Kazakhstan, because of its location and its history, is poised between several of the greatest powers in the world and has managed to work well with all of them. Anyone who knows this region should admire the foreign policy conducted by President Nazarbayev.
Secondly, the resources available to Kazakhstan, which are only beginning to be tapped, are going to be of immense importance to the world and give Kazakhstan an opportunity to emerge as a developed nation within a few years, if they manage their resources right. Many countries that have had natural resources, particularly oil, have been affected by what is called the “oil curse.” The Kazakh government is very aware of this and has spent a great deal of time studying it and working on ways to prevent it from happening. I, myself, have been involved in some of those efforts when I was a private citizen. I’ve been here many times. I think this is my seventh trip here – sixth or seventh trip – and not just to Astana; some were to Almaty.
Thank you very much.