President Nazarbayev Welcomes U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Cuts Pledges, Says Will Consider Hosting International Nuclear Fuel Bank in Kazakhstan
ASTANA, April 6, 2009 - President Nursultan Nazarbayev, speaking alongside visiting President Makhmoud Akhmadinejad of Iran in Kazakhstan’s capital, said he welcomes the U.S. and Russian leaders’ pledges to cut their countries’ nuclear arsenals made in London last week and said he would be willing to consider hosting an international nuclear fuel bank in Kazakhstan if it is created.
At a joint press conference with President Akhmadinejad in the Akorda presidential residence in Astana, President Nazarbayev said he also welcomed the statement made by U.S. President Barack Obama in Prague on April 5 that the United States would seek a world without nuclear weapons and that Washington was ready for a dialog with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
“We have always thought this [dialog] is the best solution to the situation [with Iran],” President Nazarbayev said adding that Kazakhstan has always stood for peace in the region.
President Nazarbayev noted that Iran, like other countries, has the full right to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. He then said, “If a nuclear fuel bank is created, we could consider hosting it here, in a country which has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons.” The idea of an international fuel bank under the IAEA auspices, supported by the U.S. administration, provides for the creation of a global repository which would allow countries to tap into its reserves to fuel their nuclear plants without the need to develop their own nuclear enrichment capability.
In the early 1990s, President Nursultan Nazarbayev made the strategic decision to shut down one of the world’s largest nuclear test sites at Semipalatinsk in eastern Kazakhstan, run by the Soviet Union, and renounce what could have been the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal Kazakhstan inherited after the collapse of the USSR.
Kazakhstan’s people and land suffered from almost 500 nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site from 1949 through 1991. At independence in 1991, Kazakhstan possessed more than 1,000 nuclear warheads of one megaton TNT equivalent each, and more than 100 SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles, known in the west as “Satan”.
In partnership with the United States and Russia under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, an independent Kazakhstan destroyed the entire testing infrastructure at the former test site, and eliminated all the nuclear weapons and their supporting infrastructure from its territory.
This nuclear disarmament history has turned Kazakhstan into an ardent supporter of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and freeing the world from nuclear weapons. Specific recent examples include the establishment by Kazakhstan and its neighbors of a Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone which went into effect last month. President Nazarbayev has also made numerous calls at the international arena, including at the UN, for greater cuts of nuclear weapons by nuclear weapon states and the renunciation of nuclear weapon ambitions by all countries.
In a message to a recent conference on nuclear disarmament in Oslo, President Nazarbayev said, “Kazakhstan, from the first days of its independence, presented itself to the world as a truly peace-loving state, a responsible and consistent participant of the process of nuclear disarmament and the strengthening of global security. These steps ensured our country a much more effective security and favorable conditions for development. Kazakhstan’s example becomes especially timely and needed today when the world is facing the threat of further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the threat of their use by international terrorist organizations is also growing. We see today as all countries join their efforts to overcome the gravest world economic crisis. Even more so, mankind should display collective responsibility for the fate of the planet and for freeing it from the nuclear threat. Only by joining efforts, will we be able to make our world safer and better.”