Cablegate: Kazakhstan: Special Representative Holbrooke
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000267
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, S/SRAP
EO 12958 DECL: 03/06/2059
TAGS PGOV, PREL, MARR, AF, KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HOLBROOKE
DISCUSSES AFGHANISTAN, ZHOVTIS, OSCE SUMMIT WITH FOREIGN MINISTER
Classified By: Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland, 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Ambassador Richard Holbrooke met State Secretary-Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev on February 21 to discuss Kazakhstan’s support for operations in Afghanistan, including North-South polar-route overflights, the ground transit of wheeled and armored but not weaponized non-lethal military vehicles, Afghan police training, and other bilateral assistance. Holbrooke also strongly urged the government to consider a presidential pardon for imprisoned human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis, discussed Kazakhstan’s request for a bilateral meeting with the President in April, and said the United States was seriously considering Kazakhstan’s initiative to organize a summit in 2010 during its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), although, as Secretary Clinton had told Saudabayev recently, the President would not attend. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) Participants: United States
SRAP Ambassador Holbrooke Ambassador Hoagland SRAP Staff Gen. Field SRAP Staff Pauli SRAP Staff Bommer NSC Director for Central Asia Donnelly SCA/CEN Director Hushek Embassy Astana Acting Pol/Econ Chief Covert (notetaker) Embassy Astana Pol/Econ LES Zhantikina (interpreter)
State Secretary-Foreign Minister Saudabayev Deputy Foreign Minister Umarov Deputy Foreign Minister Yermekbayev MFA International Information Committee Chair Vassilenko Special Envoy for Afghanistan Bitimov MFA Asia and Africa Department Director Kurmanguzhin MFA America Department Director Tazhiyev MFA America Department Arystanov
3. (SBU) State Secretary-Foreign Minister Saudabayev met privately for 30 minutes with SRAP Holbrooke and then escorted him into the larger meeting. Media were present during Saudabayev’s welcoming remarks, but left after five minutes.
A WARM WELCOME FOR AN OLD FRIEND
4. (SBU) Saudabayev warmly welcomed SRAP Holbrooke back to Kazakhstan, and said that Kazakhstan is grateful for the strategic vision, leadership, and advice the United States has provided to bring stability to Afghanistan. He stressed that Kazakhstan has been and will remain a “trusted and strategic partner” of the United States, and has stood by the United States ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
5. (C) After the press left the room, SRAP Holbrooke told Saudabayev that Kazakhstan is “the most important country in the region,” expressed admiration for President Nazarbayev’s achievements since independence in 1991, and asked Saudabayev to convey his personal regards to Nazarbayev, who was out of town.
A UNIQUE ROLE TO PLAY
6. (C) Holbrooke told Saudabayev that -- as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE -- Kazakhstan has a “unique role to play this year in world affairs.” He said he appreciated Kazakhstan’s focus on stability in Afghanistan and told Saudabayev that the situation is “at a very critical moment.” He noted that the United States was tripling the number of troops from 31,000 to 100,000 since January 2009, and hadtripled the number of civilians in Afghanistan. Holbrooke said the United States would welcome Kazakhstan becoming more involved in Afghanistan, and said that Kazakhstan could share its expertise with Afghanistan in police training and agriculture, for example.
NORTH-SOUTH POLAR-ROUTE OVERFLIGHTS
7. (C) To support operations in Afghanistan, Holbrooke reminded Saudabayev that the United States has requested Kazakhstan’s agreement on North-South polar-route overflights and rail transportation of wheeled and armored but not weaponized military vehicles. Saudabayev responded that the government plans to present the U.S. Embassy its draft agreement on North-South polar-route overflights by the end of the week of February 22. He said he did not expect it would take the United States long to review and approve the agreement, since it is based on an existing agreement with Russia. Saudabayev said he expected to be able to finalize and sign the agreement in March, before President Nazarbayev departs for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, on April 12-13. Saudabayev also said that he expects the North-South polar-route overflight agreement to “clear the way” for an agreement on the ground transportation of armored military vehicles.
8. (C) Saudabayev added that President Nazarbayev strongly supports the President’s strategy in Afghanistan, particularly the increase in troop levels, and the transfer of greater responsibility and accountability to the government of Afghanistan. Saudabayev told Holbrooke that Afghanistan is the “most serious problem” facing Kazakhstan at the moment and promised, “We will stand with you to resolve the situation, because it affects the security and stability of our region.”
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
9. (C) Saudabayev said Kazakhstan welcomes the U.S. objective to make the transition from military operations to sustainable humanitarian and social development through investments in infrastructure and education. Saudabayev noted that Kazakhstan itself will provide $50 million for an education program and he introduced a Kazakh SRAP, Bitimov, whom he said has worked on Afghanistan for 30 years, “speaks the language,” and understands the mentality and culture of the Afghan people. Holbrooke said he was pleased by the appointment of Special Representative Bitimov and invited him to visit Washington to discuss coordination efforts in Afghanistan.
THE ZHOVTIS CASE
10. (C) Holbrooke told Saudabayev that the imprisonment of human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis is one of the pressing issues affecting Kazakhstan’s bilateral relationship with the United States. He told Saudabayev that Zhovtis has become a symbol for the opposition in Kazakhstan, “a fact that he certainly understands and exploits.” Holbrooke said that if Zhovtis could be released by presidential pardon, that would reduce his symbolic value, since “he is worth less to the opposition out of jail than in jail.”
11. (C) On Zhovtis, Saudabayev agreed that “neither you nor we need this problem.” But he said that this is an issue of principle. “We must respect the independence of our judicial system,” he said. “If we make an exception to the law for Zhovtis,” he claimed, “then 200 others with similar sentences will demand to be released from prison as well. They are watching to see if the government of Kazakhstan will be pressured into releasing Zhovtis.” He also said that as a human rights activist, “Zhovtis never came under any political pressure” to cease his activities. Saudabayev said that Zhovtis unfortunately killed a man, was tried and sentenced by a court of law, and now must serve his four-year sentence. According to Saudabayev, “the law worked exactly the way it was designed.”
12. (C) Saudabayev observed that the “unprecedented pressure” being placed on Kazakhstan as a result of the Zhovtis conviction is “not viewed positively in our society.” He acknowledged that the “only legitimate way out” for Zhovtis would be via presidential pardon, but said, “that is the prerogative of our president.” Attempting to draw a parallel, Saudabayev added that he admired the “persistence” of the U.S. judicial system in its persistent attempts to get film director Roman Polanski, “even though he was forgiven by the victim.” Holbrooke took strong exception, noting that Polanski fled justice, escaped the law, and has been living free despite his conviction by a U.S. court.
REQUEST FOR A BILATERAL MEETING
13. (C) Holbrooke said he was hopeful that bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Nazarbayev could be arranged in April. NSC Director Donnelly confirmed that the White House is considering a possible bilateral meeting. He noted that NSC Director McFaul might visit Kazakhstan in the near future for further discussion on this issue, but that no decision has been made.
OSCE SUMMIT IN 2010
14. (C) On the subject of an OSCE Summit in 2010, Saudabayev asked Holbrooke to convey his thanks and warmest regards to the Secretary of State for their “instrumental and helpful” meeting on February 4 in Washington. He said he was grateful to have U.S. support for holding the Summit, and noted that Afghanistan would certainly be a major item on the agenda. SRAP Holbrooke told Saudabayev that, “we will make certain that the United States is represented at the appropriate level.” While Holbrooke promised to advocate personally for the meetings that Kazakhstan has requested, since they would serve the interests of both countries, resolution of other issues such as North-South polar overflights, ground transportation of military vehicles, and Zhovtis, would greatly facilitate positive decisions in Washington.
15. (SBU) Ambassador Holbrooke cleared this cable. HOAGLAND