About the Author: Richard E. Hoagland serves as U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Good afternoon. That's a really good question. What to tell people who don't know about Kazakhstan? It's a surprising country. It's huge. It's the size of Western Europe, and one of just three countries in the world -- Russia and Turkey being the other ones -- that is actually geographically both in Asia and Europe. [It's] a very huge country, very modern. Within two years it is going to become one of the ten largest oil exporters in the world. It is already the sixth largest wheat exporter. It is the largest producer of uranium in the world. It has a diversified economy and a growing middle class. It's a surprising, pleasant, modern country.
If we wanted to talk about high priorities in U.S.-Kazakhstan bilateral relationship in U.S. policy, that's really very important. We have had -- we were the first country in the world to recognize Kazakhstan's independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. And we have consistently been building a stronger, more mature relationship for nearly 20 years now.
As I always tell journalists in Kazakhstan who ask about U.S. foreign policy, you know over the years it doesn't change dramatically. It's usually a change in nuance. It's a growth whenever possible. And our priorities, both countries together, have been first, I would say, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan had the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world and voluntarily gave it up, and we continue to work on very sensitive projects to clean up the residue and detritus of that horrible period during the Cold War.
We also have very strong relations in regional security. Kazakhstan has on its border: Russia, China, the other countries of Central Asia. It's not far from Iran, and it's also very close to Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has been working with us since the beginning of this past decade very closely on Afghanistan and continues to do so and to do more. For example, they just announced a $50 million, five year program to provide education in universities and technical schools for up to 1,000 Afghans to help rebuild and stabilize that country.
On the economic front, Kazakhstan has gone through the global financial crisis just like every other country in the world. But the broad international consensus is that it reacted with responsibility and flexibility. It stabilized its banking system. Last year, even, 2009, it had 1.2 percent economic growth and is poised to do more this year. It still has a way to go, just like we have a way to go, like Greece has a way to go and other countries. But it's doing quite well, and it's maintaining its place in the world.
This is one of those obscure agreements that almost no one has ever heard about before. In fact, we have been working on it with the government of Kazakhstan since 2003. And sometimes these take a very long time but once in awhile there is a forcing event to make it happen, and that was the visit of President Nazarbayev this week to Washington to meet with President Obama. And both sides said we need to get this done.
What's the significance of it? About only 50 other countries in the world have a science and technology agreement with the United States, and what that does is open up the possibilities for much more collaboration, both in the public sector and the private sector, for research and development, sharing of information, sharing of technology, and it's actually a good way to build economic diversification.
Kazakhstan was one of the countries, one of the premier countries I would say, playing a role in the Nuclear Security Summit. And that's because, as the Kazakhstani government itself says, they have the moral right to participate in something like that, because they did give up their nuclear arsenal, and because they have been such strong partners in nonproliferation of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction over the years.
During one of the plenary sessions with President Obama, President Nazarbayev in his speech called for a nuclear free world, totally supports President Obama's vision to secure all nuclear materials within the next four years worldwide, and as I said before, continues to be a very strong and positive partner in this field, nonproliferation.
Editor's Note: Ambassador Hoagland taped this video on April 15, 2010, following the Nuclear Security Summit and President Nazarbayev's visit to Washington.