A US-Russia-China-EU summit? EU is interested

Astana skyline [Embassy of Kazakhstan to Belgium]

The EU is taking seriously the idea put forward by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to hold a four-way summit aimed at defusing global tensions, an EU diplomat told a conference in Brussels on Tuesday (4 December).

Speaking at the Europe-Asia ASEM summit in Brussels last October, Nazarbayev made a comparison between the current tensions and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the time when the world was the closest to a nuclear war. On that occasion, he proposed Astana as the platform for a meeting between the leaders of the US, Russia, China and the EU.

Kazakhstan has good relations with all major world players and a track record of organising conferences to promote peace and disarmament.

Addressing a conference organised by the European Institute for Asian studies in Brussels, Boris Iarochevitch, the head of the Central Asia Division of the European External Action Service, said the EU acknowledges Nazarbayev’s proposal for a four-way summit to look for new approaches to conflicts that destabilise global security.

“This could be done, I understand, in the framework of a UN special session or using Astana as a forum,” he said, adding that this had been discussed in the European External Action Service and work could start with expert-level meetings in order to agree how to make this dialogue happen.

Special sessions of the UN can be convoked by the secretary-general at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of the UN members. Astana has a good track record of organising high-level conferences, also building on the country’s policy of maintaining good relations with all countries, including the major global players.

Iarochevitch said the EU values Kazakhstan’s role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and its contribution to international conflict prevention and conflict resolution, in particular the Astana process, which complements the UN peace negotiations on Syria, focusing on humanitarian issues.

Kazakhstan was a non-permanent member of the Security Council for 2017 and 2018, the first time the country has been elevated to the top level of global diplomacy. In a landslide victory in 2016, Kazakhstan secured 138 votes against Thailand’s 55.

Iarochevitch also welcomed Kazakhstan’s “increasingly important” role in promoting peace, stability and security in Central Asia. He called “historic” the meeting hosted by Astana last March of the leaders of the Central Asian countries.

Astana hosts little-publicised Central Asia summit

Only a couple of years ago, a summit of the five Central Asia countries would have been absolutely unthinkable. But the leaders came together on Thursday (15 March) and decided to hold such meetings annually, always at the same time of the year, which is a major holiday in the region.

The EU diplomat also praised Kazakhstan’s role in organising a summit in Aktau last August, where a new convention on the Caspian Sea was signed. He said the EU hoped that it would bring stability and certainty in that area and create opportunities to develop the region’s gas resources.

Caspian Five settle row over sea’s legal status, demarcation pending

Leaders of the five Caspian littoral states met on Sunday (12 August) for the Fifth Caspian Summit in Kazakhstan’s port city Aktau to sign a landmark declaration determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea and aiming to end the legal limbo over its resource-rich waters.

The EU diplomat also welcomed the inclusion of Afghanistan in the context of regional development in Central Asia, with what he said was a concrete follow-up at the recent Tashkent conference, in which EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini took part.

Mogherini discusses future of Afghanistan at Central Asia forum

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived in the Uzbek capital Tashkent yesterday (26 March) and met with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries, ahead of a conference on Afghanistan under the heading “Peace process, security cooperation and regional connectivity” which takes place today.

Building trust

The deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, also spoke about Nazarbayev’s idea for a four-way summit, either in Astana or elsewhere, adding that a lot depended on the trust between the global stakeholders.

This could be a UN event or a four-lateral event, but it’s up to the countries mentioned to decide, he said, adding that his country is now exploring the “common denominator” of what could be done and what topics could be addressed.

“It’s in the making, it cannot happen overnight. It requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work”, the Kazakh diplomat said.

Belgian diplomat Bert Versmessen, the coordinator for his country’s upcoming stint as a non-permanent UNSC member, said his country had studied Kazakhstan’s experience and was prepared to build upon it, mentioning, in particular, the focus on Afghanistan.

“Multilateralism today is under pressure, whichever area you look at,” Versmessen said, adding that a goal of his country’s UN stint would be to demonstrate that “multilateralism can work”.

Ashikbayev was asked why his country did not raise at the UN Security Council the issue of ethnic Kazakhs in China’s far-west Xinjiang region, as well as Uighurs, who are reportedly being massively re-educated in camps.

Kazakh families torn apart in China's Xinjiang crackdown

When he looks back on his youth in China’s far-west Xinjiang region, Akikat Kaliolla, an ethnic Kazakh, recalls the place’s natural beauty and the big, colourful weddings typical of his majority-Muslim community.  

The diplomat answered that his country, as a rule, does not discuss human right issues at the UN Security Council, as the proper place, in his words, was the UN Human Rights Council. He said Kazakhstan was making use of the “diplomatic toolbox” to address the issues of the 1.6 million of Kazakhs in China “in a constructive way”.

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