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Remarks at Farewell Reception for Kanat Saudabayev, State Secretary of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Outgoing Ambassador to the United States

Evan A. Feigenbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
June 14, 2007

Well, thank you very much Bob. And on behalf of all of my colleagues in the State Department and the U.S. Government, let me just say what a pleasure it is to honor Kanat Saudabayev — or, more accurately, three Kanat Saudabayevs: the man; the ambassador; and the friend and colleague we all have come to know so well.

So, first, we honor the man. Kanat, you’ve left us for bigger and better things in Astana.

But I know you’ll continue to be involved with U.S.-Kazakhstan relations because you’ve been such a central figure in that partnership for so much of your career.

Now, everyone here tonight knows the highlights of that career: Foreign Minister, chief of the Prime Minister’s office, ambassador, and now State Secretary. But you miss something deeper if you read only his resume. Kanat Saudabayev is one of Kazakhstan’s founding generation -- that remarkable group who began their careers as Soviet diplomats but, quite suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, by the way, found themselves as Kazakhstani diplomats.

You may not know this, but Kanat was appointed in 1991 by Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet ambassador to Turkey only to arrive in Ankara a few weeks later as the ambassador of a new and independent country. And so his career, and that of his generation, has coincided, quite literally, with the creation, consolidation, and emergence onto the world stage of an independent Kazakhstan.

Of course, that hasn’t always been easy. As he himself once put it, Soviet traditions and Soviet habits had to be replaced with new Kazakhstani traditions based, in part, on Kazakh habits: some old, some new.

And so tonight, as we honor Saudabayev the man, all of us in the U.S. Government recognize the central role he has played in our relations for over a decade: as ambassador, of course, but also as Foreign Minister, when he signed Kazakhstan’s Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO in 1994, and, most important from my perspective, as a tireless advocate for stronger U.S.-Kazakhstan relations.

Now, second, tonight we recognize Kanat Saudabayev the ambassador: For more than six years, through two Administrations, he served his country here in Washington. And I have to say that he served his country very well indeed. Ambassador Saudabayev presided over his Embassy during a period of remarkable growth in the U.S.-Kazakhstan relationship.

You know, in important, official-sounding documents—Joint Statements, communiqués, and the like—we often say that we are “strategic partners.” But we sometimes forget what that really means. It means we have a multi-dimensional partnership. We work together in so many areas: security; economics and trade; energy supply and development; counterterrorism; nonproliferation; Iraq; Afghanistan; and, yes, democratic reform, which we believe will be so important to Kazakhstan’s future.

It means our relations increasingly benefit Central Asia and the world, not merely our two peoples. It means we are enlarging one another’s visions of regional cooperation in Central Asia and beyond, including by building a better future for Afghanistan. And perhaps most important, it means that, whatever the relationship between our Governments at any given moment, ordinary Americans and Kazakhs now help to drive this relationship: businesspeople, students, scholars, citizens.

And this, by the way, was unimaginable in 1991, when few Americans or Kazakhs had even heard of each other, much less had direct experience of one another. So, Kanat, it’s no overstatement to say that you drove this relationship to new heights during your tenure. You oversaw two presidential visits with an impresario’s flair. And no wonder since you used to be an actual impresario: as chairman of the State Film Committee, a theatrical producer, and, I once heard, a pioneer of the Kazakh “avant garde” cinema.

You’ve played a pivotal role in this relationship over six very important, and sometimes difficult, years. And so, as I said, we honor your outstanding service as Ambassador.

Now, third and finally, we recognize Saudabayev the friend and colleague. And I daresay that’s why so many of us are here tonight. Secretary Saudabayev: You have a lot of friends in this town — from Capitol Hill to the executive branch, from boardrooms to classrooms. You’ve been a tireless advocate for your country -- lecturing to students at Yale, speaking on Capitol Hill, writing op-eds in the Washington Times, answering Borat* with speeches on “the real Kazakhstan.”

And you’ve made an awful lot of friends along the way. You’ve taught an awful lot of us to speak a little, awful Russian. You’ve shown us boundless hospitality over dinners of manti and vodka toasts. You’ve regaled us with stories of Kazakh cuisine, the arts, the circus, and of course your children and grandchildren. And so we’ll miss you. We’re sorry to lose you in Washington. But we haven’t really “lost” you. Because I know you’ll remain a friend and colleague: an advocate for your country, but also an advocate for this relationship. And so, Kanat, we thank you for your service here. And from all of us in the U.S. Government, all the best wishes on your new assignment!

* Borat Sagdiyev, a fictional Kazakhstani journalist portrayed by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. He is the protagonist of the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

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