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February 15, 2003

Kazakhstan FM: If Iraq doesn't disarm, U.S. can use our airports

A place where Muslim moderation works and many faiths seem to live in peace. This friendship is vital, for these "-istan" countries sit close to huge energy and mineral reserves, including of course the Caspian Sea.

ALMATY, KHAZAKHSTAN - Kazakhstan believes that Iraq should be given a last chance to divest itself of its weapons of mass destruction; but if it spurns that chance this Central Asian republic will be ready to provide its air space and its airports to support a military operation against Baghdad.

This was made clear here Thursday night by the Kazhak foreign minister, Kasimjomart Tokaev in a conversation with Haaretz. The minister was guest of honor earlier at a dinner given by the visiting Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations and the local Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, at the close of an inter-faith 'Conference on Peace and Accord'.

Tokaev said the U.S. had been "very persuasive" in adducing evidence against Saddam Hussein. "If it is indeed proven that they have WMD, there is no justification for the existence of this regime."

Kazakhstan opened its air space and provided ground services for allied air forces during the campaign against Al-Qaida in Afghanistan last year.

Kazakhstan's successful divestment of its own nuclear capability, the foreign minister said, could serve as a guide to the Iraqi people after the confrontation ends and a new government takes over in Baghdad. "It is very important for the leadership to explain to the people that the state can not only survive but prosper and succeed, after it has voluntarily disarmed."

It was important, too, he said, for the disarming state to receive international guarantees. Kazakhstan had received such guarantees, a year after its own disarmament, from all five permanent members of the Security Council. [more]