Rice says US not trying to undermine Russia
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday rejected any suggestion that U.S. efforts to build closer ties to this former Soviet republic are meant to undermine Russian influence in Central Asia, AP reported.
"This is not a zero-sum game," she told reporters flying with her to the Kazakh capital. U.S. gains need not mean Russian losses, she said.
"First of all, Kazakhstan is an independent country. It can have friendships with whomever it wishes," she said. "That's perfectly acceptable in the 21st century, so we don't see and don't accept any notion of a special sphere of influence" for Russia in this region.
Rice was scheduled to meet with President Nursultan Nazarbayev; her Kazakhstan counterpart, Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin; and Prime Minister Karim Masimov.
Rice is leading U.S. efforts to court energy-rich Kazakhstan.
The top U.S. diplomat, who was in India on Saturday, planned to stress Kazakhstan's potential as an energy supplier while democracy and human rights seemed likely to take a back seat
Nazarbayev, the country's autocratic ruler, has maintained a military alliance and close relations with Russia.
He also has kept a door open to the West and looked to develop new export routes to Europe for Kazakhstan's vast energy resources. But that balancing act has been in doubt since Russia's invasion of Georgia in August, which threatened to close off the corridor for pipelines around Russia.
Since Russian forces pushed close to Georgia's capital before pulling back, the Bush administration has tried to signal its commitment to countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Last month, Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, another important energy exporter in the region.
The administration does not want to be seen as the one "that lost Eurasia and the Caspian region," said Ariel Cohen, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The United States also has sought to develop military ties with Kazakhstan as a regional power close to U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Kazakhstan's membership in a Russian-led Eurasian security bloc precludes the country from joining NATO. But it retains close contact with and regularly conducts joint military exercises with the Western alliance.