Project Sapphire 20 Years Later
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Ambassador Umarov, Senator Nunn, Senator Lugar (the distinguished senator from my home state of Indiana), honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is such an honor to participate in this conference marking the 20th Anniversary of Project Sapphire. Thank you to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for making this important dialogue possible. This is a hugely significant anniversary, and I am grateful that CSIS and the Embassy of Kazakhstan have made this public event possible. I have to admit, I feel a little bit like the U.S. Zelig of Central Asia, because I’ve been there since 1993 – and am so proud to have been there.
After the United States became the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, our two nations built a foundation of mutual trust, working together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There is no better symbol of that trust than Project Sapphire, which rid Kazakhstan of approximately 600 kilograms or weapons grade uranium.
Kazakhstan, this new member of the community of nations, through its decision to carry out Project Sapphire, earned respect from around the world for its commitment to strengthening global security and for its support for international norms.
Since then, Kazakhstan has been at the forefront of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and a major force in the multilateral institutions that underpin those efforts. And nuclear nonproliferation cooperation remains a seminal pillar of the U.S.-Kazakhstan strategic partnership.
We appreciate Kazakhstan’s ongoing participation in the Nuclear Security Summit process – a priority for President Obama. The Summits have been an important venue in helping to secure vulnerable nuclear material worldwide, and Kazakhstan’s contributions in this regard have been very valuable.
For example, Kazakhstan shut down the BN-350 reactor on the Caspian coast and shipped its spent fuel to secure storage. I was there at the dedication ceremony, outside Kurchatov, snow sweeping across the steppe, and I was deeply proud – and deeply moved – to be privileged to represent my country at that important event. In other milestones of nuclear non-proliferation, Kazakhstan down-blended 33 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from its Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP) to low enriched uranium, and it also secured weapon-usable nuclear material at the Semipalatinsk Test Site through upgraded physical protection.
We are also proud of our growing partnership on science and technology and anticipate deepening our collaboration with Kazakhstan through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC), which Kazakhstan will host at Nazarbayev University in Astana beginning in 2015.
The ISTC has played a pivotal role in the prevention of WMD-expertise proliferation over the past two decades, and Kazakhstan’s leadership in hosting the Center will be critical to the continued success of the organization.
Kazakhstan is also working with the United States on another priority issue. In his April 2009 Prague speech, President Obama called for the creation of a bank of low enriched uranium (LEU) under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s auspices, as part of a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation.
The fuel bank will provide an emergency backup source of reactor fuel in the event that the international market could not meet a country’s needs, and would thereby support the expansion of peaceful nuclear energy without increasing the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. We support the LEU bank and appreciate Kazakhstan’s offer to host it.
In conclusion, today Kazakhstan is a leader in the region and a strong partner of the United States. It continues to set high goals and is taking on a leadership role on the global stage. The United States and Kazakhstan have an ambitious agenda together to address the challenges of the 21st century, whether in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons or in building an open and inclusive trade network linking Central and South Asia with China and Europe. This is a great expansion from Project Sapphire 20 years ago. I want to assure you that our broadening cooperation will help us to achieve these goals.