* Yerlan Idrisov had been Kazakh ambassador to Britain, U.S.
* Appointment balances relations with Russia and the West
* President Nazarbayev eyes investment in high-tech
By Robin Paxton
ALMATY, Sept 28 Kazakhstan President Nursultan
Nazarbayev has appointed his long-serving ambassador to the
United States as foreign minister to help the oil-rich country
to forge stronger economic ties with the West.
Yerlan Idrisov, 53, was reappointed to the post he held
between 1999 and 2002 before embarking on consecutive five-year
stints as ambassador to Britain and the United States.
Nazarbayev is an ardent supporter of plans by Russian
President Vladimir Putin to establish closer economic and
political ties between former Soviet states; a "Eurasian Union"
to recoup the potential lost when the Soviet empire collapsed.
But Friday's appointment of Idrisov to run foreign policy,
utilising the contacts and experience gained from a decade
working in Western capitals, helps Nazarbayev to allay possible
concerns in Washington and the European Union that Kazakhstan
might be turning its back on the West, analysts said.
"We need to be pragmatic. This includes reinforcing our
embassies in those countries with which we have serious economic
contacts and interests," Nazarbayev said while introducing
Idrisov to ministry staff.
The president is also keen to look at making business
investments in the West. "We have reached the point where we
have the opportunity to invest abroad. If the need is there, we
can become shareholders in high-tech companies," he said in
comments on the presidential website.
Idrisov's switch comes as 72-year-old Nazarbayev, who was a
member of the last Soviet Politburo, guides his country towards
a Eurasian Union based on an existing three-way customs union
with Russia and Belarus
"With Kazakhstan participating in the Eurasian Union, this
appointment was required to balance foreign policy in a Western
direction," political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov said.
Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan throughout its two decades
of independence from the Soviet Union. During that time the
nation, a majority Muslim country of 17 million people
stretching from the Caspian Sea to China, has carefully balanced
its foreign policy between the West and surrounding powers.
Western oil majors and, more recently, Chinese state-owned
companies have contributed a large part of the more than $150
billion of foreign investment Kazakhstan has received over the
period. Kazakhstan is the biggest former Soviet oil producer
A former colleague of Idrisov's, who asked not to be
identified, described the new minister as a "hands-on" diplomat
who had developed many contacts in London and Washington.
"He wouldn't be shy to take off his jacket and roll up his
sleeves during negotiations," he said. Idrisov, a fluent English
speaker, also worked as a Soviet diplomat in Pakistan in the
1980s and speaks Urdu.
Previous Kazakh foreign ministers have been appointed with
specific policy goals in mind. Idrisov's predecessor, Yerzhan
Kazykhanov, was an Arabic specialist appointed in part to
oversee Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic
Cooperation, which ends this year.
Kazykhanov was appointed presidential adviser on Friday.