Mr. Steinmeier in Kazakhstan
(For a German media roundup on Steinmeier’s visit to Turkmenistan, check out the Turkmen blog.) German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier has finished his six-day tour de force of visiting all five Central Asian countries, the first time a German minister has ever done that. Tellingly, Kazakhstan was the only country where Steinmeier did not meet the president:
Ein deutscher Außenminister ist für den Sohn eines Schäfers offenbar inzwischen protokollarisch nicht mehr die richtige Ebene. Ein Treffen mit Steinmeier wurde vom Palast frühzeitig abgesagt.
For the son of a shepherd, it seems that a German FM is not on the same protocol level anymore. A meeting with Steinmeier had been cancelled by the [presidential] palace early on.
Steinmeier met with his counterpart Kasimkhomart Tokayev, and in the light of Germany’s upcoming EU-presidency, Steinmeier said that “Europe is beginning to be interested in Central Asia maybe too late, but is thinking in the long run”. His trip throughout the region served in part as a fact-finding mission for a potential European Central Asia strategy. Kazakhstan, with the region’s largest oil reserves, is likely to play the key role in this. Thus, Steinmeier had to be careful in his criticism towards the Nazarbayev administration.
Steinmeier räumte ein, dass es auch im Westen Meinungsunterschiede über die Frage gebe, ob Kasachstan sich ausreichend um Reformen bemühe. Er verwies auf die Debatte über die Pläne des Landes, im Jahr 2009 den Vorsitz der Organisation für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa (OSZE) zu übernehmen.
Steinmeier acknowledged that there are different opinions held in the West on whether Kazakhstan is doing enough for reform. He pointed at the debate over Kazakhstan’s plans to assume the OSCE chairmanship in 2009.
The US and the UK seem to favour a bid by Astana for the year 2011, and Steinmeier’s careful wording suggests that Germany might not be a strong advocate for an earlier chairmanship. Maybe Nazarbayev will have to talk business with German chancellor Angela Merkel when he comes for a state visit to Berlin in January 2007. Kazakhstan is Germany’s fifth-largest oil supplier and its third most important trading partner within the CIS.