(www.ap.org) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday pushed her proposals for more EU involvement in Central Asia, holding talks with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev that touched on energy and trade cooperation.
"Germany can be a motor for deeper integration of Central Asia with the European Union because we have many common interests," Merkel said at a joint news conference, indicating that the bloc sought to join Russia and China in seeking cooperation with countries in the region, reports Trend.
Deepening ties with Central Asia is one of the points Merkel wants to stress during her country's six-month European Union presidency. One reason for Europe to seek more cooperation is the region's fossil fuel resources and a growing sense that the EU needs alternative supplies of oil and gas to avoid excessive reliance on Russia.
Most gas from the Caspian Sea region reaches Europe through Russian pipelines. A pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan in Turkey, completed in 2005, skirts Russia.
Nazarbayev welcomed Merkel's initiative toward Central Asia, and said implementing it was "a very important issue."
Talks addressed energy, trade and investment and the ethnic German community in Kazakhstan, which Nazarbayev said numbers some 300,000 despite widespread emigration to Germany.
The two also discussed plans for a German-Kazakh university in Kazakhstan. However, the two leaders did not mention any specific energy project.
"We agreed that we can still improve and broaden energy cooperation," Merkel said.
"There is already a pipeline to Baku and I think we can then talk about broadening energy cooperation with Europe this way so as to diversify our energy sources," she said. "We have a strong interest in this, and I say this also as (European Union) president."
Nazarbayev extolled relations with Europe in a speech later Tuesday to the German Council on Foreign Relations.
"The development of relations with the European Union is an important priority of our foreign policy," Nazarbayev said. "One of the most important directions in our cooperation with the European Union is energy partnership ... Germany is a key partner."
Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan supported the idea of a permanent seat for Germany on the U.N. Security Council, just as Germany has supported Kazakstan to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009.