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At UN, Kazakh Ambassador Serves Cheney Film and Lamb, Stakes Claim as Diplomat

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 22 -- Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country by land mass, and now owns a spacious office on 47th Street in Manhattan for its mission to the UN. The space was dedicated on a month ago by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, an oil portrait of whom in centered on the wall of the mission's reception room. Oil is the operative word. Increasingly, Kazakhstan's claim to power and attention rests on its oil reserves. Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova told Inner City Press that by 2010, Kazakhstan will be pumping as much oil as Saudi Arabia is today. It has a pipeline of transit through Russia, and is an essential supplier to the Baku-Tbilisi-Cehan alternative pipeline. It wants to extend a pipeline in China.

    "We don't like to rely on anyone," says Amb. Aitimova, who has been at the UN for seven months. Before that, she served as Kazakhstan's Ambassador to Israel -- and to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, she points out -- and as minister of education, with a mandate including space. She speaks of a library of Kazakh promotional films, while screening one showing President Nazarbayev with Bill Clinton and then, just briefing, Dick Cheney. Kazakhstan was the rare Muslim country to send troops to Iraq, she points out.

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Aitimova if Kazakhstan contributes peacekeepers to UN missions. "We have just started," she answered, noting that the first UN observer in Nepal was Kazakh, with ten more on the way, along with de-miners in Iraq. And what of the UN's regional peace organizational office now slated for Turkmenistan -- Inner City Press asked, did Kazakhstan try to get it? Amb. Aitimova laughed. "We already have too many offices," she said. "We support our neighbors."

            What about returning refugees and asylum seekers to Uzbekistan? "We try to negotiate," Amb. Aitimova answered. "But life is life, everything might happen. We try not to cry, but to resolve."

Amb. Byrganym Aitimova checks in with Ban Ki-moon, March 2007

            Her predecessor Yerzhan Kazykhanov had told Inner City Press about the presence in Kazakhstan of Chechens, Lezgines from Dagestan, Gagauz and other ethics groups. "We all get along," Amb. Aitimova said. She spoke of "Germans and Jewish" wanting to come back. "We follow international rules," she said.

            While narrating after the movie, Amb. Aitimova had mentioned that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has 1400 nuclear warheads but chose to give them up. "There were countries who offered us money to keep them," she said. Afterwards, over a heaping plate of lamb and sticky rice plov, Inner City Press asked her to name the countries. "I can't remember them," Amb. Aitimova said. Then she laughed. "I am a diplomat, remember that." A diplomat, indeed...

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540