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Rumsfeld Visits Kazakhstan for Talks on Strengthening Relationship

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Feb. 25, 2004 – Had Saddam Hussein followed Kazakhstan's example, the war in Iraq never would have been fought, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

Kazakhstan renounced nuclear weapons in 1993, and working with the United States in the Threat Reduction Program, it was the first of the former Soviet states to eliminate nuclear weapons on its territory.

"It's interesting when one thinks about the problem of Iraq and their unwillingness to disarm, that Kazakhstan stands as an impressive model of how a country can do it," Rumsfeld said. "Had Iraq followed the Kazakhstan model after 17 U.N. resolutions and disarmed the way Kazakhstan did, there would not have been a war."

Further strengthening of the military relationships between the United States and this former Soviet republic highlighted discussions during Rumsfeld's second visit here in two years. He met with Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev, Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbayev and National Security Committee Chairman Nartay Dutbayev.

"We talked about U.S. support for Kazakhstan's sovereignty and our important military-to-military relationship," Rumsfeld said during a joint news conference with Altynbayev. The leaders also discussed the importance of Kazakhstan's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. "Kazakhstan is an important country in the global war on terror, and has been wonderfully helpful in Iraq, and I came here to personally say 'thank you' and express our appreciation."

Earlier, the secretary met with a platoon of Kazakhstani military engineers. The soldiers recently returned from duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they worked with unexploded ordnance disposal as part of the Polish-led Central- South Division. Rumsfeld thanked them for their service in Iraq.

Their commander, Lt. Col Kayrat Smagulov, spoke for the unit. "We had full cooperation from our American compatriots," he said.

With an area of more than a million square miles about the size of Western Europe -- Kazakhstan is the world's ninth-largest country. It's bordered to the north and west by Russia and the Caspian Sea, on the east by China, and on the south by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The most recent State Department estimate, from 2002, puts the country's population at 14.8 million.

Beefing up security on the Caspian Sea has become a high priority in the country. The waterway straddles Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran. These countries must resolve the longstanding issue of how to divide the land-locked waters. The sea is well-known for its caviar crop and has untapped oil reserves.

Altynbayev said the United States and Kazakhstan today signed on to a $12 million program for projects involving the Kazakhstani army as part of an ongoing five-year plan to address Caspian Sea security. Rumsfeld said the plan has involved military exercises and refurbishment of bases, and that security in that area is "important to the world."

Drug-running operations originating in Afghanistan also are a concern in Kazakhstan. Rumsfeld said the coalition is working on the problem, and Afghanistan is nearing the point at which its government will be able to do more about it.

"The crop year in Afghanistan in every respect was a good one," Rumsfeld said. "That's a good thing generally for food; it's a bad thing when it's also a good crop year for drugs. The coalition countries, under the leadership of the United Kingdom, are working with the government of Afghanistan to deal with the drug problem and the drug flow out of Afghanistan and into Europe."

Rumsfeld said he expects the focus on Afghanistan's drug problem to increase, now that the country has a newly approved constitution and elections on the horizon.

Altynbayev noted recent media reports that the United States, through Ambassador Larry C. Napper, has given Kazakhstan vehicles and radio equipment to help the effort to fight drug trafficking.

Also in the war on terror, a man reportedly from Kazakhstan was among the suspected al Qaeda terrorists Pakistani forces captured this week. Altynbayev said the suspect in Pakistani custody is of Kazakhstani origin but is not now a citizen of the country, and that terrorist groups such as al Qaeda can't take root in the country. He explained that with more than 120 ethnic groups, few religious extremists and tight control exercised by the country's special services, Kazakhstan is not a good environment in which groups like al Qaeda can operate successfully.

On the issue of Pakistan's efforts, Rumsfeld praised the country, calling it a "strong and effective partner" in the 90-country coalition involved in the global war on terror. "The work that they're doing along the Afghan border to capture terrorists is an enormous help in the worldwide effort," he said.

He pointed out that when raids scoop up people like those captured by the Pakistanis, they often have several passports, aliases and identities. Therefore, he said, it's too soon to be sure about the national origin of any of the suspects in question.

Rumsfeld last visited Kazakhstan in May 2002 to convey U.S. gratitude for the country's Operation Enduring Freedom support in Afghanistan. The country allowed use of its airspace and granted emergency landing rights at designated airfields.

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