In first-ever visit to Kazakhstan, Annan hails country's efforts at conflict prevention

In first-ever visit to Kazakhstan, Annan hails country's efforts at conflict prevention

Kofi Annan receives Order of Dostyk from President Nazarbayev
Arriving today for his first-ever official visit to Kazakhstan, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan applauded the country's efforts at preventing conflict in the region as well as its initiative in helping to get Central Asia designated a nuclear-free zone.

"I think what Kazakhstan is doing, the President's leadership, is absolutely essential for this region…and something that the UN will support and continue to support, and I hope we can work closer on some of these issues," the Secretary-General said during a press encounter after his meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Presidential Palace in Astana.

Asked for a reaction to the recent resolution by the United States Congress on the use of military force in Iraq, the Secretary-General noted that discussions were underway in the Security Council to send UN weapons inspectors back in, possibly with a resolution to strengthen their hands. Those talks, he added, were taking place after the Congress's decision, which "would lead me to believe that the US would prefer to work with the Council and with the international community."

During the Secretary-General's hour-long meeting with President Nazarbayev, the two discussed the country's progress over the past decade, regional security and the proposed Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Agreement for Central Asia, according to a UN spokesperson. They also talked about conflicting claims to the Caspian Sea, the phenomenon of Islamic militancy in the region and international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, as well as Security Council efforts to come to agreement on the conditions for the return of UN inspectors to Iraq.

After the meeting, the President presented the Secretary-General with the Order of Dostyk, or friendship, the highest award given to non-Kazakh nationals. In his remarks afterwards, Mr. Annan hailed the country's accomplishments since it gained independence a decade ago, especially its "courageous stance" on nuclear disarmament. Security, he stressed, was inextricably linked with development. "The foundations of peace are much stronger when people can see that poverty is being reduced, that society is becoming more just, and that these gains can be sustained in the future," he said.

Before arriving in Kazakhstan, the Secretary-General spent the morning in Mongolia, where he was joined by Prime Minister Nambar Enkhbayar at the opening ceremony of the new UN House, a two-story structure donated by the Government to house all UN agencies, funds and programmes working in Mongolia.

Mr. Annan then met with representatives of about 10 UN agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which have programs in Mongolia, and then met with UN staff, talking with family members of UN personnel killed in a helicopter accident in Mongolia in January 2001.