The world can look forward to next week’s nuclear security summit in Washington “with heightened optimism and fresh political will,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
Speaking at a news conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the final leg of a five-country Central Asian tour, the United Nations chief praised Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s “visionary leadership” in closing down the former Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk, banishing all nuclear weapons in 1991, and pioneering the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.
“For decades it was the epicentre of the Cold War threat to humankind,” he said of Semipalatinsk, which he visited yesterday. “Today, it is a powerful symbol of hope for the future, of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Mr. Ban yesterday welcomed President Barack Obama’s new policy on restricting United States use of nuclear weapons and tomorrow’s United States-Russian summit in Prague to sign a new nuclear arsenal reduction treaty as important steps on the road to achieving this goal.
“I have encouraged President Nazarbayev that he is the leader with the strongest moral voice, as he has closed down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in 1991 under extremely difficult circumstances,” he added, referring to the Washington nuclear summit.
Mr. Ban said he had discussed with Mr. Nazarbayev the conflict in nearby Afghanistan, regional cooperation on sustainable economic development, conflict prevention and resolution, good governance, drug trafficking and counterterrorism. “In Central Asia, as elsewhere, regional cooperation is key to peaceful growth and development. Dialogue costs little, but it can bring big returns,” he noted.
The two leaders “gave special attention to a matter of utmost importance: the region’s management of natural resources, chiefly energy and water,” he said. “The question is how to use these common resources for common prosperity among the nations, respecting the interests and well-being of all the nations in this region. That is why I am here. We have a collective responsibility, both the international community as well as the region’s leaders, to deal with these urgent issues before tensions get worse.”
It is an issue Mr. Ban has raised consistently during his tour of the region where exploitation of water by one country can affect the development of another. Yesterday, while in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, he said the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy (UNRCCA) offered a “key role” for resolving such tensions, calling on the countries to appoint “a focal point” to the body. He thanked Mr. Nazarbayev for doing so.
As he did in the four other Central Asian capitals, Mr. Ban raised the issue of human rights, urged the Government to set up an independent human rights institution. “I am encouraged that President Nazarbayev and his Government are committed to establishing this. A robust and engaged civil society – with full guarantees of free speech and media, and tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity – is a powerful force for modernization,” he said.
He praised the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan as “a very dynamic leadership of the diversity of Kazakhstan’s society,” noting that its principles are based on the values of respect and tolerance.
“Too many countries in the world have been torn apart by ethnic strife,” he said in an address to the body. “Too many have seen their development held back by discord and suspicion. Distrust among cultures and faiths is still an obstacle to peace and progress in our globalized world.”