KAZAKHSTAN HOSTS IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS
Astana, April 5: For the second time in six weeks, Almaty has hosted the continuing talks on the future of Iran’s nuclear program. The very fact that this round of talks followed on so swiftly from the previous round, held in Almaty on February 26-27, is a positive sign. The first three rounds of talks, held between April and June 2012 in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, ended in stalemate. It was regarded as a frustrating, and, indeed, worrying sign by the international community that it took eight months to get everyone round the table again.
Kazakhstan’s role in bringing everyone together again is not underestimated. It is not simply because Kazakhstan was able to offer Almaty as a convenient venue for the talks between the so-called “E3+3” group – Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the USA –and Iran. An important factor, too, is Kazakhstan’s unique position as a leading country in the nuclear disarmament movement, after voluntarily giving up the large nuclear arsenal which the country inherited from the Soviet Union.
After achieving its independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan inherited the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, even before independence, in August 1991, President Nazarbayev signed a decree to close the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site.
Nuclear tests had been carried out at the site for 40 years, leaving a radiation-polluted area roughly the size of Germany. More than one and a half million people in Kazakhstan suffered as a result of those tests. By closing the site and giving up the country’s nuclear arsenal, the President and the people were making a clear statement that Kazakhstan was to be a nuclear-free country.
As a leading member of the nuclear non-proliferation movement, Kazakhstan is seen as an exemplary state in which to hold the talks on the future of Iran’s nuclear program. The country has the added advantage of being a neighbour of Iran across the Caspian Sea; the nuclear question in Iran cannot but have an effect on the wellbeing of Kazakhstan.
Writing ahead of the second round of talks in an article in the Washington Times newspaper, President Nazarbayev spoke out against the argument that possession of nuclear weapons is an absolute guarantee for security. The President stressed that a country can secure its territorial integrity precisely by foregoing the nuclear deterrent. He recalled that the same six countries that are currently negotiating with Iran are those that are guaranteeing Kazakhstan’s security and territorial integrity in exchange for Kazakhstan’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. The President agreed that each participating state of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to use peaceful nuclear power, but only if such a state strictly observes all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requirements. As a practical step in this direction, President Nazarbayev has proposed hosting in Kazakhstan a low enriched uranium fuel bank under IAEA auspices. There is a compelling logic in this proposal, as Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium.
Speaking on her arrival in Almaty on April 5, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton said that at the February talks in Almaty, a clear and concise proposal for confidence-building measures had been put forward, to try to tackle concerns about the nature of the nuclear program of Iran. The second Almaty talks provided an opportunity to hear the response from Dr Saeed Jalili and the Iranian team, which she trusted would be a considered, balanced and well thought out one, to facilitate an agreement on how to move forward.