Bridge Building and Big Business

Article excerpt

Massive oil finds in Central Asia have brought the region to the have brought of international interest. In this exclusive interview the Kazak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Erlan Idrissov outlines his country's projected future role in the region

The discovery of what is possibly the biggest oil field found in the past 30 years has dramatically changed the geopolitical situation in Central Asia and pushed Kazakhstan into the forefront of world energy policies. Output from the field -- Kashagan, together with the increased production from Kazakhstan's huge Tengiz oilfield and from the giant Karachaganak gas deposits, is expected to make the Republic one of Europe and the Middle East's largest suppliers by the end of this decade.

Exports from Tengiz via Russia and the Black Sea, now set to begin in early August, will benefit the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Turkey and Europe. In May, Kazakhstan's press secretary at its embassy in Washington DC, Roman Vassilenko, confirmed that the republic also now supports another strategic line, the US-favoured link from Azerbaijan's capital and oil port of Baku through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Kazakh oil would be shipped to Baku from its port at Aqtau on the north-eastern side of the Caspian. And, as a sign of just how much oil is expected to be produced in the coming years, the big French oil conglomerate, TotalFinaElf is reported to be ready to invest in a year-long project to consider exporting yet more Kazakh oil via Turkmenistan and Iran. The oil could then be swapped for Iranian crude and shipped from Gulf ports to supply the rapidly growing demand in the Far East and Indian sub-continent.

In this exclusive interview with The Middle East's contributing writer, Pamela Ann Smith, Kazakhstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Erlan Idrissov, talks about how Kazakhstan views its future role in the region and in the world and comments on his discussions with the new Bush Administration during his official visit to Washington in early May.

TME: As one of the world's largest countries, Kazakhstan serves as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Do you think you can develop new links with both these regions, while maintaining your traditionally close ties to Moscow?

A: In Soviet times, political, trade and economic ties from Central Asia were oriented towards the North, which reflected the dominant role of Moscow. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, a need emerged to restore the natural bridge between Asia and Europe, which for centuries was known as the `Silk Route'. As the important link in this route, Kazakhstan needed to gain access to world markets. As President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has said, we have to use the adverse position of `a land-locked country' to obtain the maximum geopolitical and economic dividends.

We have developed the transport and communications systems of Kazakhstan, including oil and gas pipelines. We have determined the transit (railroad, automobile and air) corridors running through our territory, and we have developed appropriate projects in infrastructure. These include the TransAsian-European fiber optic line (from Shanghai to Frankfurt) that is already operational and railway lines from China through Kazakhstan to Russia, Belarus and Poland.

This summer the ministers of transport of Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Russia are to hold a tripartite negotiation on the transit of Kazakhstan's oil to the Baltic ports and on tariffs. Moscow's eagerness to successfully realise these projects, as well as others in power and other sectors is obvious since there is a huge economic benefit for Russia. It is important that Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as other leaders of the interested countries, applies a pragmatic approach to these major issues of development.

We are deeply convinced that our active trade and economic and political ties with the countries of Europe, Asia and America are in harmony with the development of close mutually beneficial relations with the Russian Federation. …