KEEPING AN EYE ON KAZAKHSTAN
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday July 1, 2009
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not make empty threats.
Last week the president of Iran threatened the president of Azerbaijan. Using his foreign minister as a mouthpiece, Ahmadinejad threatened to severely punish Azerbaijan if the official visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres was not cancelled.
The official visit went on as planned. And this week the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan was called home.
Shimon Peres, undaunted by the diplomatic curve he had been thrown Azerbaijan, continued on to the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a burgeoning country. It has a blossoming economy and its influence in the Muslim world is substantial and growing more substantial. Kazakhstan is a country in the right place, with the right natural resources, at the right time in history.
Kazakhstan is the 2nd largest producer of uranium in the world and has, by far, the largest uranium reserves in Eurasia. The only country that has more uranium than Kazakhstan is Australia, but Australia can never wield the influence over the Muslim world that Kazakhstan can wield. Nuclear energy speaks volumes in today's world.
Shimon Peres had multiple agendas in going to Kazakhstan. One of those reasons was expanding relations between Israel and a significant Muslim country. Another reason had to do with nuclear energy. Peres wanted assurances that Kazakhstan would not be supplying nuclear fuel to Iran. The promises were received, but promises from Kazakhstan are not completely reliable.
Last year I wrote about a train that departed from Kyrgyzstan, crossed into Kazakhstan and then crossed the border into Uzbekistan where it was intercepted and stopped. The train was making its way to Iran. The train was filled with uranium. It had already traveled through and crossed over the entire Kazakh before it was stopped on the Uzebeki side of the border.
The Uzebeki border guards were shocked to find the uranium. They sent it back and alerted the Kazakh government. In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest move. According to most people in the know, including International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed el Baradei, Kazakhstan is one of the most nuclear-trafficked states in the world.
Uranium is for Kazakhstan what oil is for Saudi Arabia. Every country will want it, many countries will need it and Kazakhstan will be one of the only countries that has it. Estimates for the revenue Kazakhstan will reap exporting their natural resource are coming in high, as high as $15 - $20 billion a year for this sleepy little Asian Muslim country.
Central Asia is the future battlefield for the conflict between East and West. It is where Islam retains a strong moderate tradition, it is also where the Fundamentalist population is growing. Kazakhstan realizes that it is coming of age and that it will very soon be in control of the world's supply of nuclear fuel much the same way OPEC is in control of the world's oil production and supply.
We must keep a very close eye on Kazakhstan. We must nurture the Kazakhs and help them grow responsibly. We must cultivate a deep and trusting relationship with Kazakhstan. We must make every effort to lure Kazakhstan away from Iranian influences. If Kazakhstan falls under the influence of Iran the results will be cataclysmal for the Western world.
That is why Iran's president saw fit to make threats. It is why Israel's president thought it wise to pay a visit.
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