Nazarbayev and Bush held roughly hour-long talks in the Oval Office, followed by a private luncheon. In comments following the meal, Bush characterized Kazakhstan as a "free nation." Bush administration officials seemed reluctant to elaborate on the specifics of the discussions. According to the White House's web site, the two leaders were to discuss security issues, "energy diversification" and democratization.
Bush's comments on Kazakhstan's record clashed with recent assessments by human rights groups and civil society organizations, which have been critical of the Nazarbayev administration for taking aggressive action to limit domestic opposition. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Freedom House, in its 2006 Nations in Transit report, said "the Nazarbayev administration continues to block political participation by groups that advocate reforms, and exaggerates the potential threat posed by political, ethnic, or religious extremists." [For Background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
On September 28, Nazarbayev made two public appearances in Washington. In the morning, he unveiled a monument to Kazakhstan's independence, and, in the evening, he was the honored guest at a dinner recognizing Kazakhstan's decision to give up its nuclear arsenal. A non-voting member of Congress, Eni Faleomavaega, Democrat of American Samoa, introduced Nazarbayev at the dinner. Faleomavaega suggested Nazarbayev's decision to disarm should earn him a Nobel Peace Prize, earning applause from the audience of 400.
Only Samuel Bodman, the US secretary of energy, dared to suggest that the United States and Kazakhstan have any disputes. "We don't agree on every issue, but on most we do," he said at the morning monument unveiling.
Nazarbayev kicked off his Washington visit September 28 by signing a $650 million agreement to buy 310 diesel locomotives from General Electric. Later in the morning, he formally unveiled the monument on the grounds of the Kazakhstan embassy in Washington, which depicts a warrior of the Saka people, an ancient civilization that lived on the territory of what is now Kazakhstan two thousand years ago. Nazarbayev noted that although the statue was of a warrior, his sword was sheathed and his arms out. "He is a man of peace," he said.
The theme of disarmament was one that Kazakhstan sought to emphasize during Nazarbayev's visit. The Kazakhstani embassy in Washington has promoted the country as one of the few nations of the world to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program.
Nazarbayev decided in the early 1990s to give up the arsenal of nuclear weapons he inherited from the Soviet Union, and for that move was feted at a dinner at a downtown Washington hotel organized by the Kazakhstan embassy and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Nazarbayev, in his remarks, described Kazakhstan's decision to disarm, and was praised by luminaries that also included former Senator Sam Nunn and media mogul Ted Turner, co-founders of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Nazarbayev also seemed to take a jab at nuclear powers for monopolizing nuclear technology, and he called for global nuclear disarmament. "A paradoxical situation has formed in the world that essentially runs counter to the fundamental principles of international law: one group is allowed to have weapons and to improve them, while the second group is denied permission to have weapons, or to even develop them. This is wrong, unfair and disproportionate," Nazarbayev said, according to a translation of his speech by the Russian news agency Interfax.
"Approaches to resolving this issue should be revised within the UN in favor of global measures and responsibilities of all nations, primarily the nuclear powers, to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons and to gradually destroy their arsenals," he said.
Also at the dinner, Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, announced that the United States and Kazakhstan has reached agreement to downgrade nearly all of Kazakhstan's remaining highly enriched uranium. The agreement calls for the dilution of highly enriched uranium at the Institute for Nuclear Physics in Alatau, and for the conversion of research reactors to operate on low-enriched uranium, Brooks said.
During his visit, Nazarbayev met with the heads of energy companies, including ConocoPhilips, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton, as well as with Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank. He also met with members of Congress, including Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, and Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican of California.
Kazakhstan organized a large media blitz for Nazarbayev's visit, including a four-page insert in the September 28 issue of The New York Times, along with television ads extolling Kazakhstan's potential for tourism and business on CNN and during late-night network news broadcasts.
Nazarbayev's visit was overshadowed, however, on American television news by the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian whose alter ego, the boorish Kazakh journalist Borat, has drawn official protests from Astana. Cohen, in character as Borat, gave a news conference in front of the Kazakhstani Embassy.
Sean Roberts, a Central Asia Fellow at Georgetown University, noted that Borat's stunts may have ultimately helped Kazakhstan avoid controversy during the visit. "Ironically, he [Borat] is now taken so much of the limelight that he is unfortunately obscured a lot of the serious questions about Nazarbayev's visit and issues related to US-Kazakhstani relations."
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.