Next nuclear worry for US: Kazakhstan?

So far, the former Soviet state has cooperated with the US on nuclear issues. But a new report suggests that Kazakhstan might be looking to do business with other, less responsible regimes, too.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Does Kazakhstan want to increase its nuclear commerce – doing deals with other nations that have mixed records when it comes to weapons proliferation? That is a sensitive issue which US intelligence appears to be following closely.

Since it gained independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has cooperated with the US on key denuclearization activities. Nuclear weapons stationed on Kazakh territory were returned to Russia and their delivery systems destroyed.

But Kazakhstan is second only to Australia in reserves of uranium. It has cut a number of nuclear material deals with Russia, China, and other nations.

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"Seemingly contrary to its promotion of a peaceful, nuclear weapon-free Central Asia, Kazakhstan foresees itself connected to the nuclear arena, and actively pursues collaborations with other countries in nuclear-related activities," concludes a new study from the US Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center.

The analysis is unclassified and based on published information collected by intelligence analysts. It was posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

Kazakhastan's leader, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has skillfully balanced his country's relations with the US, the EU, Russia, India, and China, according to the report.

Now Mr. Nazarbaev has said he wants to do more than export raw uranium. He wants to export more profitable fuel assemblies for nuclear reactors.

Currently, Kazakhstan carries out uranium enrichment activities only in joint ventures with Russia, on Russian soil, with Russian technicians.

"The concerns of the international community regarding the Kazakhstan-Russian enrichment cooperation ... focus on Kazakhstan's position as a country that may find it attractive to acquire enrichment technology, and Russia's ability to provide such technology in order to maintain clout in its traditional sphere of influence and retain a resource-rich neighbor," says the report.

Kazakhstan may be reaching out to cooperate with Iran, a nearby regional power. And while Nazarbaev has kept a firm grip on power since 1991, it is unclear who his successor might be. Plus, the country's political and economic hierarchy is riddled with corruption, according to the US intelligence report.

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