Kazakhstan to Accept Phaseout of Nuclear Arms

In a US visit beginning today, Kazakh president will sign deal for huge US venture in Tenghiz oil field

KAZAKHSTAN President Nursultan Nazarbayev arrived in Washington yesterday with key concessions to American concerns designed to smooth the path for his first official visit to the United States.

On Sunday, the Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry announced that it was now ready to meet a persistent US demand that it renounce its status as a nuclear-weapons state. The Kazakh government also indicated its readiness to negotiate the complete elimination of the 104 powerful multiple-warhead strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) of the former Soviet arsenal which sit in silos in the vast Central Asian republic.

Resource-rich Kazakhstan also agreed to a deal with the major US oil company Chevron to exploit a huge new oil field, an agreement said to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The contract, which was the subject of intense controversy, is ready to be signed during President Nazarbayev's visit.

The Kazakh government linked its shift in nuclear policy to the signing on May 15 of a collective security agreement with Russia and four other former Soviet republics who are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and to what it asserted were "US assurances that immediate actions would be performed to render help if Kazakhstan finds itself a target of aggression or a threat."

"Now that Kazakhstan has become a member of the [commonwealth] collective security committee and has been provided with a nuclear umbrella ... Kazakhstan has changed its position," Nazarbayev told reporters before leaving Moscow yesterday.

The Central Asian state is one of four former Soviet republics with nuclear weapons based on its territory (along with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). In an interview with the Monitor published on April 27, Nazarbayev said that Kazakhstan wished to be considered a "temporary nuclear power" and to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nuclear weapons state. He also linked full elimination of the missiles to getting security guarantees from the US.

The US administration clearly rejected this position, insisting that it sign the NPT as a non-nuclear state. In its Sunday statement, the Kazakhstan government relented, agreeing to sign the treaty according to Washington's wishes. In signing the NPT, Kazakhstan claimed a US security umbrella under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) reached between the US and the former Soviet Union to which Kazakhstan claims it is "a full and equal partner."

THAT treaty will eliminate most but not all of the 10-warhead SS-18 missiles based in Kazakh silos. The Kazakh government said they also will take part in further negotiations to reduce those weapons but "as an independent partner."

Nazarbayev told reporters yesterday however that the question of further cuts will be decided together with Russia, according to the official Russian Itar-Tass news agency. "Russia is now Kazakhstan's military and political ally," he reportedly said. He added that "the matter of providing Kazakh territory for the purpose of common defense and deployment of nuclear missiles will be decided on mutually advantageous terms."

Nazarbayev, who is due to have a working lunch at the White House today with President Bush, views ties with the US as key not only to Kazakhstan's security but also to its economic development. Foreign investment, lured by rich deposits of oil, gas, coal, and minerals, is an essential component of the Kazakh economic strategy, including freeing the republic from dependence on its ties to neighboring Russia.

The Chevron deal to develop the Tenghiz oil field, under negotiation for three years with the former Soviet authorities and then the Kazakhstan government, is widely viewed as the test case for foreign investors. But the deal appeared to be foundering when Kazakhstan, on the advice of foreign experts such as J. P. Morgan investment bank and the Oman state oil company, sought to renegotiate what it considered an unfairly favorable deal for Chevron. Last month Kazakh government officials, in an interview w ith the Monitor, rejected a Chevron counter-offer as inadequate and threatened to reopen the deal to other foreign bidders.

Under pressure to have the contract ready for Nazarbayev's trip, both sides appear to have made concessions in talks held in Alma-Ata two weeks ago. According to Interfax news agency, citing an Oman oil company official who participated in the negotiations, Chevron agreed to taking a 20 percent share of the net profits, down from their earlier demand for 28 percent. Chevron will also make an undisclosed payment to Kazakhstan for its 50 percent share in the joint venture, to be called Tenghizchevroil.

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