I had honor and privilege to host more the 30 US religious leaders at the 4th Annual Interfaith Dinner at the Kazakhstan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations chancery building on January 11, 2012. It was a joint enterprise with Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Byrganym Aitimova and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
The Interfaith Dinner has become a tradition to foster engagement between the secular but predominantly Muslim Kazakhstan and distinguished representatives of American religious groups. This trust in dialogue and tolerance helped Kazakhstan and the United States to establish a solid foundation for active engagement on issues of particular concern for the Obama Administration in its efforts to establish a workable framework to overcome misunderstandings between America and the Muslim world.
This is part of a trend, as you all know. Kazakhstan did a lot during its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010 to promote tolerance. And today, we are doing the same with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which we chair. I think it’s Kazakhstan’s destiny to serve as a “bridge-builder” between the West and the Muslim World, evidenced by our history with the Great Silk Road.
As I mentioned above, more than 30 participants attended the Interfaith Dinner including U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, known American spiritual leader Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, one of the leading rabbis of America Marc Schneier, Executive Director and Co-Founder, American Society For Muslim Advancement Daisy Khan, Religions for Peace Secretary General William F. Vendley, Head of Orthodox Church in America the Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky and others.
Ambassador Hannah Rosenthal in her statement recognized the role of Kazakhstan in promoting international interreligious dialogue. She praised Kazakhstan’s role in enhancing tolerance not only in the county, but also on the world stage as “the founder of the Congress on World and Traditional Religions, as 2010 Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and as 2011 Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”
Other participants, including Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Rabbi Marc Schneier, Religions for Peace Secretary General William F. Vendley, the Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky of Orthodox Church in America, and Executive Director and Co-Founder of “American Society For Muslim Advancement” Daisy Khan expressed their viewpoints that Kazakhstan should keep up working its achievements during its chairmanships in the OSCE and the OIC. According to them, Kazakhstan should enhance its position as a moderate Muslim nation that recognizes the important role of religion in the society. Its voice in support of tolerance in the region and internationally should gain even more weight.
Discussions at the dinner generated a number of valuable proposals. The overarching suggestions were to create action plans regarding deeply held and widely shared cares and concerns and to focus on peace and prosperity in Afghanistan as an important step toward regional comity.
We have all also agreed to capitalize on Kazakhstan’s valuable multicultural experience by convening a regional council of religious leaders that can address the role of religion in the region. We were of the same opinion that multiculturalism should be viewed not as a problem, but as an opportunity to unite within diversity.
One more important item: we hoped to draw on and promote women’s capacity to network. Again, Kazakhstan where women enjoy equal rights, can share its experience and play a positive role in women empowerment.
Peace in the country is better ensured, if the future leaders are trained at young ages and involved in mobilizing their communities. To that end, it was suggested that a regional conference for youth leaders should be supported, where they can get together and exchange experience. I think that will create a lot of progress, especially among our future – the young people we care so much about.
I enjoyed the frank and candid discussions with the spiritual leaders from various backgrounds who with their presence at one event demonstrated that we all share commonalities and should focus on unity, rather than dividing lines. It is my sincere hope that their ideas and recommendations will be implemented during and as an aftermath of the 4th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana on May 29-30. I look forward to meeting the learned and inspirational leaders next year around the same period.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov’s Visit Strengthen Bilateral Cooperation: Annual Bilateral Consultations Become Strategic Partnership Commission
It is a great pleasure for me to see the bilateral cooperation being strengthened every year. Just recently, the Embassy staff and I organized a very successful visit by Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov to Washington DC, between Jan. 30 and Feb.1. It was his first official visit to the United States in his capacity as the Foreign Minister. He had a wonderful meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has been always supportive of advancing the mutually beneficial relationship. This time is no exception – the talks went very well.
Secretary Clinton described Kazakhstan as “a country with whom we have very friendly relations and work together on a whole range of issues, both bilaterally and regionally and globally.” She also said: “Kazakhstan has served in recent years as the chair of the OSCE, the chair of OIC, and has been very helpful in our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.” Her welcoming remarks can be accessed here.
On his part, Minister Kazykhanov outlined the major priorities of the Kazakh-US partnership — Afghanistan, security and non-proliferation cooperation, energy, trade and investment, democracy — and focused on the important issues on the bilateral agenda. His remarks can be read here.
The major outcome of the talks was that they agreed that the Kazakhstan-U.S. Annual Bilateral Consultations will become the Kazakhstan-U.S. Strategic Partnership Commission.
With a view to help our citizens better interact with each other, the sides decided to facilitate the travel between our countries. To that end, Kazakhstan and the US also agreed to exchange, at the earliest, diplomatic notes with regard to the Agreements on Issuing 5-Year Visas and Unification of Visa Fees.
They also discussed prospective meeting between President Nursultan Nazarbayev and President Barack Obama in March, on the sidelines of the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.
The two delegations also exchanged views on democratic development in Kazakhstan. They were of the opinion that the recent election of the multi-party Mazhilis is an important step in the right direction toward strengthening representative institutions, independent media, developing civil society.
A special emphasis was also put on educational ties, scientific and technological cooperation between universities, research institutes and in the private sector.
While in DC, Minister Kazykhanov also met with Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Richard Lugar and Chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. These were also a great success, which reinforced the mutual desire to keep up the increased level of dialogue.
During the visit, three important events were held: Atlantic Council Conference on Kazakhstan, luncheon meeting with U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association and the book launch for “Kazakhstan: Stereotypes and Surprises after 20 years of Independence.”
At the Conference Minister Kazykhanov delivered a keynote address focusing on nation building accomplishments and Kazakhstan’s strategic partnership with the United States. You can read my separate blog on the Conference here.
The luncheon meeting with the U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association was attended by the executives of major U.S. companies with a presence in Kazakhstan including IBM, Сhevron, ConocoPhilips, Sikorsky Aircraft, Exxon Mobil, Shell, FedEx, Boeing, PFC Energy, Asia-Africa Projects Group, AGCO Corporation and CRDF Global. The Minister addressed the meeting focusing on the investment climate and vast business opportunities in the burgeoning market.
This whirlwind of events was topped off by the launch of Jonathan Aitken’s new book, “Kazakhstan: Stereotypes and Surprises after 20 Years of Independence” at Metropolitan Club on Feb. 1, 2012. I also wrote a separate blog on this important event.
Overall, the visit provided a great boost to the Kazakh-U.S. strategic partnership. A number of important agreements have been reached.
First of all, the Annual Bilateral Consultations have become the Strategic Partnership Commission, which will meet in April in Washington D.C.
Secondly, we have agreed to simplify the visa regime through issuing 5-year visas, which will have a long term positive impact on the relationship across the board from business-to-business to tourism, education and technology cooperation.
Third, strengthened Kazakhstan-US relationship will spur the regional cooperation in Central Asia, where free flow of ideas, investments, goods, services should contribute to development, prosperity and stability.
The comprehensive and candid discussions reaffirmed once again the maturity of the dialogue based on the mutual respect and recognition of interests of both the sides. The US has recognized Kazakhstan’s growth on the world stage, which is evidenced by its chairmanships at the OSCE and OIC. Kazakhstan is also considered a reliable and increasingly important strategic partner in Eurasia and Central Asia playing a major role in implementing New Silk Road project aimed at developing Afghanistan’s regional trade and economic relations with its neighbors and beyond. Kazakhstan is also playing a constructive role in diplomatic efforts on Iran and Syria.
The substance and tone of the discussions were very encouraging. The Foreign Minister and the U.S. high ranking officials said they were extremely pleased with the progress Kazakhstan and the United States have made in consolidating bilateral cooperation as partners.
Overall, the visit provided a great boost to the Kazakh-U.S. strategic partnership. The Foreign Minister and U.S. high-ranking officials said they were pleased with the progress Kazakhstan and the United States have made in consolidating bilateral cooperation as partners.
I’m pleased to tell you about a new grand agreement that has been reached between the Kazakhstan airline company “Air-Astana” and Boeing Corporation to purchase seven Boeing 767 and 787 “Dreamliners.” The deal was announced by Air Astana President Peter Foster at a press conference on Feb 6, 2012.
Under the agreement, which is the largest all-in-one aircraft order in Central Asia, Air-Astana will buy four Boeing 767s beginning in 2013, and three Boeing 787s starting in 2017 for a total of $1 billion. This transaction will allow the Kazakh national airline to replace and upgrade its fleet over five years while reducing operating and fuel costs and delivering comfort during long-distance flights to local and international customers.
Air-Astana will be the first regional airline to use the next generation aircraft. The 787 “Dreamliner,” Boeing’s newest plane, is the most efficient aircraft in its class and the world’s first major airliner to use composite materials for most of its construction. The 787 consumes 20% less fuel than the similarly-sized Boeing aircraft. It also has a four-panel windshield, noise-reducing chevrons on its engine nacelles and a smoother nose contour. It sounds great!
The agreement between Air-Astana and Boeing will help support more than 160,000 American jobs in Washington and South Carolina, and is consistent with US President Barack Obama’s efforts to keep and develop high-tech manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The landmark agreement was discussed during the recent meeting between Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was extremely pleased with the deal.
The agreement between Air-Astana and Boeing will boost U.S. exports and solidify America’s position as the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech aircraft. I hope one result of the purchase will be a significant jump in number of people flying on Boeing airplanes to the Central Asian region and back.
The 767 and 787 models of Boeing are the ideal aircraft for Air-Astana’s next phase of domestic and international growth. The airline company aims to grow its fleet to 34 aircraft by 2016, and to 43 aircraft by 2020. I believe that Air Astana is now a global airline.
I have been actively supporting and facilitating the negotiations between the two companies. For that purpose, I even visited the Boeing Corporation office in Seattle and the 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in Everett in 2009 to meet corporate executives and discussed with them Air Astana’s plans to purchase additional aircraft to help meet surging travel demands of Kazakhstan citizens.
Air-Astana was founded in 2001 and is based in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s business capital. It operates 26 western aircraft that fly nearly 50 domestic and international routes. The main shareholders are the Kazakhstan Government, with a 51% share through its Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund, and BAE Systems PLC (United Kingdom),which owns 49%.