Nuclear talks host also a model for possible Iran option
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) welcomes Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in the Kazakh city of Almaty, on February 25, 2013.
February 25th, 2013
04:22 PM ET

Nuclear talks host also a model for possible Iran option

By Elise Labott

Kazakhstan, the venue for the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, offers the kind of symbolism the United States hopes will serve as a model for Iran.

The former Soviet Republic gave up a formidable nuclear stockpile after achieving independence in the 1990s and now is in negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency to host a bank of nuclear fuel that would eliminate the need for a county like Iran to enrich uranium for themselves.

"Kazakhstan made very, very fundamental decisions to give up their nuclear weapons, to have a peaceful civil nuclear program," a senior U.S. official told reporters in Almaty, the nation's former capital. "In many ways, they are a model of what is possible."

From 1949 through 1989, the Soviet Union conducted hundreds of nuclear tests and experiments, both underground and above ground, at Kazakhstan's Semipalatinsk test site.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, an independent Kazakhstan joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state, transferred its weapons stockpile to Russia for dismantling and closed its test site at Semipalatinsk.

To rid itself of its nuclear legacy, Kazakhstan partnered with the United States to eliminate its huge arsenal of about a thousand strategic nuclear warheads and 370 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperation Threat Reduction Program, established in 1992, the United States cooperated with Kazakhstan on a variety of projects, ranging from securing and disposing of excess nuclear and radiological material and decommissioning of nuclear reactors to retraining former weapons scientists.

Working along with the Russia, American and Kazak scientists worked to decontaminate the Semipalatinsk site, where several hundred kilograms of potentially vulnerable nuclear material remained. In 2000, a joint project to seal 181 test tunnels and 13 test shafts at the test site was completed.

The government is now trying to use its nonproliferation track record to become a leader in peaceful nuclear energy.

Kazakhstan is estimated to hold at least 15% of the world's uranium reserves, and since 2009 has been the world's leading producer of uranium. Last year it reduced 20,900 metric tons of uranium, 37% of the world output. The nation manufactures fuel for nuclear plants on its own soil and is currently engaged in a joint venture with Russia to enrich uranium for their peaceful use.

Since 2009 it has offered to host a host a low enriched uranium fuel bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency and has been in negotiations on the plan for the past two years.

Over the years Kazakhstan has signed several conventions and protocols governing its peaceful use of nuclear energy. U.S. officials investigated and dismissed claims that Iran had secured nuclear material for its program from Kazakhstan. At last year's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Kazakhstan was hailed for its nonproliferation efforts.

Last March in a New York Times op-ed piece, the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, urged Iran to abandon any plans to build a nuclear weapon.

"Kazakhstan's experience shows that nations can reap huge benefits from turning their backs on nuclear weapons," Nazarbayev wrote.

Now, the Obama administration hopes Iran will come to the same choice its Kazakh hosts made years ago, and recognize a nuclear weapon will not increase its security or economic prospects. U.S. officials have told CNN that a package of incentives to be presented to Iran in Almaty includes easing of sanctions banning the trade in gold and precious metals, as well as cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy.

"Kazakhstan has a very growing and vibrant economy. They've been able to use their resources, including their oil resources, to build a society that I think has a very positive future," the senior U.S. official said. "I think they believe they are more secure, not less secure, without their nuclear weapons."

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Filed under: IAEA • Iran • Nuclear
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Cyrus

    Only Iran has no nuclear 'stockpile' to give up.

    February 27, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply
  2. mf3

    I certainly admire the Khazakh's selflessness in giving the Russians what belonged to them in the first place, given that as a small country they couldn't afford to keep a nuclear stockpile anyway. Iran may simply not make that choice. they have the right to enrich Uranium and there is nothing in the NPT that says they cannot attain weapon capability, as long as they don't actually build a weapon. To expect them tpo accept to be treated differently is ridiculous. If anything theyn have shown that they know how to play the sanction game.

    February 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Which brings another thought: Kazakstan along with Australia and Canada are the largest uranium producers, and these three account for over 80% of World uranium mining. Currently none of the three has any enrichment capabilities. Neither Kazakstan, no Australia have any use of uranium they produce: 100.00% of it goes on export. Canada does have nuclear energy (which is somewhat technologically unique, since it does not need enrichment at all using heavy water moderation instead), but most of uranium it digs out still goes on export (primarily to US and Europe).

      While Kazakstan is not a colony and does not let others to treat itself as colony (all uranium mining is fully under its own national control unlike in Namibia or elsewhere in Africa where all operations are done by international corporations, and so to profits, leaving this countries only to deal with ecological damage left by mining), this "nonproliferation pretext" is basically used as justification (or excuse) to put a country into economic disadvantage because the final product - uranium enriched to the degree which can go to nuclear reactors - has much more value than yellow cake.

      Does Kazakstan has the right to enrich? Any argument against?

      February 26, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  3. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    February 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  4. bribarian

    israel sign NPT yet?

    February 26, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  5. Fascist USA

    This makes sense except for one big problem. The US itself does not practice what it preaches. It is very convenient that the US wants other countries to abondon nuclear weapons while it continues to modernize its own nuclear weapons and not aggressively reduce them. The US is capable of conventionally destroying a country and can continue to invest in missile defense against Russian, Chinese, or North Korean missiles. The US has no need for nukes. The only logical reason it maintains them is because they intend to use them given the opportunity. If they are using them as a deterrent how can they deny any other nation's wish to also have them? They also would like a deterrent. And all other nations don't have the military strength that the US has, a nuclear deterrent is more defensible for these other nations than it is for the US. The US is a fascist country, period. No country should have nuclear weapons, including the US, period.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:08 am | Reply
  6. Andrei

    Looks like Kazakhstan is taking over Turkey's role. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic and under strong Russian influence but it's a Turkic nation. Russia and Turkey will be running the show behind the curtains and hopefully Kazakhstan will succeed in this mission. If not, the next ones may be the other former Soviet republics that are Turkic: Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan.

    February 26, 2013 at 3:30 am | Reply
  7. zac


    February 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  8. plumbline

    Daniel 11:23-24...
    23 And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people. 24 He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time.

    Revelation 16:16
    And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.

    February 25, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  9. Samo Umer

    US development model for the region: pro-Western dictators

    February 25, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Fortunately US is very unsuccessful in Central Asia. The only pro-US dictator they managed to install is Hamid Karzai.

      February 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  10. Joe

    In 2009, Iran, Brazil and Turkey signed a treaty that would have kept all Iranian uranium enriched above 5% in Turkey. They offered the deal to the US. Not only did Obama ignore the offer, a few days later they levelled the harshest sanctions yet on Iran.

    The US isn't even slightly interested in any deal that means peace with Iran. If they did that, then they may have to actually deal with the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, the human rights abuses on women by the Saudis and the imprisonment of democracy protesters by Bahrain.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Kudos Joe. I totally support your post. Obama constantly speaks out against bullying yet he needs to practice what he preaches and stop bullying the Iranians.

      February 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  11. hossien

    when did Iran said they want jews out of Middle East? you are as blind of bat in your hatred that do not see the defference between jews and zionism. read a little.

    February 25, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  12. Hahahahahahahah

    Talks........Pffffffffffffffft!!! Iran will spout the same BS as always. Talks haven't worked and won't with Iran. Hear that Israel???? Hahahahahahahahaa

    February 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  13. Ogden

    As long as a single jew left in Middle East, Iran does not feel safe, so, they may have to have whatever they need
    to protect them self.
    As soon as US dismantled the israel and moved the jews out of Arab Lands then peace may come to that part of the world.

    February 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • John Geheran

      And after the eradication of Jews from Arab lands then it will be the infidels who will be targeted for elimination. Of course, we will be given the "right" to convert or to pay the "jizya" as a means to avoid being killed. Then Muslims will be free to do what they do best....kill each other.

      February 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      You do realize that there are Jews living peacefully in Iran right?

      February 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Reply
      • mf3

        I don't think they know that Iran has the greatest Jewish population in the ME outside Israel.

        February 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm |

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