Iranian Leader Backs Kazakh Proposal For Nuclear Fuel Bank
(RFE/RL) -- Iran and Kazakhstan both possess huge oil reserves, so it was
expected that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's visit would focus on
exports of Kazakh oil through Iran.
But the most sensational energy news to emerge from the Iranian leader's visit
concerned not oil, but nuclear power.
At an April 6 press conference in Astana, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
restated his government's position that Iran, "like any other nation in the
world, has the right to peaceful nuclear energy."
But Nazarbaev added that Iran's nuclear program must be transparent, in order to
eliminate the fears held by many countries that Tehran is seeking to develop
As one step toward alleviating such worries, Nazarbaev proposed a nuclear fuel
bank be created -- and suggested his country could host the facility, "as a
signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and as a country that has
voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons."
Such a facility, which would be funded and supervised by the UN's International
Atomic Energy Agency, has been offered as a potential step toward stopping the
spread of nuclear weapons.
A fuel bank would be used to supply countries with enriched uranium for their
civilian nuclear power facilities, and thereby eliminate the need for individual
countries -- like Iran -- to enrich their own uranium.
Iran's nuclear program, which it insists is for peaceful purposes, has raised
suspicions in the international community that Tehran is looked to develop a
nuclear weapons arsenal.
Ahmadinejad has staunchly defended his country's right to enrich uranium for its
nuclear program, but welcomed the Kazakh president's proposal, "especially
considering Kazakhstan's past."
Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan inherited what was
the fourth-largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world -- a fact that was
seized upon by the leadership in Tehran, who at the time sent Kazakhstan a note
congratulating them on becoming the world's first Islamic nuclear power.
Kazakhstan voluntarily surrendered its nuclear weapons shortly after that, with
help from Russia and the United States.
Iran's participation in the proposed nuclear fuel bank could help reduce
concerns about that country's nuclear program. The discussion came one day after
U.S. President Barack Obama announced an ambitious plan to stem nuclear
Ahmadinejad also gave his support to Nazarbaev's proposal to create a new global
financial system and a single world currency. The Iranian leader said a good
first step would be to establish a regional currency, blaming unspecified
"capitalists" for looking to lay their problems on other countries.
two presidents also talked about the legal status of the Caspian Sea. An
agreement on sharing access to Caspian resources has eluded the five littoral
states for nearly two decades, with most favoring a division of the Caspian into
national sectors extending from an individual country's coastline to a
determined midway point.
Iran has lobbied for designating the Caspian as a lake, in which case the
resources of the oil- and natural-gas-rich Caspian would be split equally among
the five littoral states.
This is not surprising, given that surveys indicate Iran's natural sector of the
Caspian offers the least oil and gas deposits.
Nazarbaev offered a third, new proposal: "We think it would be more logical to
establish sovereign zones, extending 22 to 25 miles from the shore, which would
be considered state territory. I think this would be a good compromise."
The two presidents also said they would support a 10-year moratorium on sturgeon
fishing in the Caspian to protect the rapidly dwindling population of the fish,
prized for its caviar.
Nazarbaev described ties between Kazakhstan and Iran as "growing day by day."
Despite mentioning cooperation in the energy sphere, however, the Kazakh
president did not refer to any specific project.
Kazakhstan already exports some oil through Iran under an agreement whereby oil
is shipped by tanker to northern Iranian ports on the Caspian and Iran makes a
like amount of its own oil available for export at its southern ports.
Last year, the two countries expanded their cooperation in oil exports, with
talks on Kazakh investment in building new refineries in northern Iran to handle
Kazakh oil. Kazakh officials also hosted a first-ever conference on Iranian
business and investment in Kazakhstan last autumn.
Always careful to balance his country's foreign ties, President Nazarbaev, while
standing beside President Ahmadinejad at the press conference, praised U.S.
President Barack Obama for his proposal on nuclear-weapons reduction.
On April 7, the Kazakh parliament's press service announced Nazarbaev had
extended an invitation to Obama to visit Kazakhstan "at his earliest
The chairman of Kazakhstan's parliament, Qasymzhomart Toqaev, delivered the
invitation to Obama on the sidelines of an international conference in Turkey
promoting East-West dialogue.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service director Edige Magauin contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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