Pompeo Arrives In Kazakhstan, Set To Meet Toqaev, Nazarbaev

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, as he continues his tour through four former Soviet republics to meet with leaders and express U.S. support as Washington competes with Moscow for influence in the region.

Pompeo arrived late on February 1, Kazakh officials said, and is scheduled on February 2 to meet with President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi.

Pompeo, who visited London before stopping in Ukraine and Belarus, is scheduled to leave for Uzbekistan late in the evening.

The State Department said in a statement that the visit to Kazakhstan is aimed at reaffirming “our shared commitment to peace, prosperity, and security in Central Asia.”

Washington has seen energy-rich Kazakhstan as a counterweight to Russia in Central Asia, and U.S. oil companies have invested billions in joint ventures to develop Caspian Sea fields.

Toqaev, 66, became president when Nazarbaev announced his resignation in March 2019 after ruling the country for nearly 30 years.

Toqaev was inaugurated as Kazakhstan’s new president in June after a weakly contested election that was marred by what international observers called “widespread voting irregularities.”

Nazarbaev, 79, continues to control social, economic, and political spheres by leading the ruling Nur-Otan party and the influential Security Council.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights and prolonged his hold on power in the country of 18.7 million people by manipulating the democratic process.

The capital, formerly called Astana, was renamed in his honor after his sudden resignation last year.

Protests over poor living conditions and financial shortcomings have been held across Kazakhstan for almost a year after five children from one family died when their home in the capital burned down in early February 2019.

Pompeo will then travel to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, where he will meet with President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov.

Mirziyoev, a former prime minister, became president after predecessor Islam Karimov’s death was announced in September 2016. Karimov ruled Central Asia’s most-populous country of 32 million with an iron fist since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mirziyoev has taken steps to bolster the country’s struggling economy and to implement reforms in Uzbekistan — where rights abuses had been widespread under Karimov.

Still, rights watchdogs have expressed concerns about conditions in Uzbekistan. Freedom House, for instance, ranked Uzbekistan “not free” in its Freedom On The Net 2018 assessment and said the Internet environment there remained “repressive.”

Uzbekistan also has sizable oil and gas reserves, and it has also been seen as a counterweight to Russian influence in the region. It has allied with Washington in the war in Afghanistan and the fight against radical Islamist fighters.

During his stay in Tashkent, the top U.S. diplomat will also participate in a C5+1 ministerial summit with his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan “to stress U.S. support for a better-connected, more prosperous, and more secure Central Asia, consistent with the U.S.’s new Central Asia strategy,” the State Department said.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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