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Kenneth Fairfax, US Ambassador: I don’t know how many of us are here in Kazakhstan

November 8 2012, 14:43

The Ambassador of the United States of America to Kazakhstan Kenneth FAIRFAX spent a few days in Atyrau. We happily responded to the proposal of the US Embassy to meet him for an interview. 

Kenneth J. Fairfax is a diplomat in Senior Foreign Service with the personal rank of Minister Counselor. His diplomatic career began in 1987.

Ever since he has been to 70 countries and his overseas assignments include Iraq, Vietnam, Poland, Ukraine, Canada, Russia, Korea, Oman…and Kazakhstan.

He also served on the U.S. National Security Council Staff as Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia and as Director for Nuclear Materials Security.

He is the recipient of the “Sinclair Award” for outstanding achievement in a hard language (Vietnamese). He doesn’t speak Kazakh yet, but has a big desire to. At a meeting with students he confessed that such trips interfere with his class schedule.

EMBASSY CAN’T PROVIDE FORECASTS

- Who do you think will win US presidential elections this year?
- You’d better ask the Kazakhstan Embassy in the United States, because they are at the place and thoroughly watching it. Embassies always pay due attention to elections, so do we – to elections in Kazakhstan. I can surely say an only thing about current elections in USA - no one will know who the winner is until the end of polling. Both candidates have almost equal chances.
- In comparison to your country in terms of voting technologies Kazakhstan is like a child, but sometimes it is worth learning some things from children. What would America learn from Kazakhstan?
- This is a complicated question, because our systems are very different from each other. American system has been forming for over two hundred years. Our significant difference from the Kazakhstan system is that it is based on the will of the states, and states make eventual control of elections and form the central government. To amend the constitution or basic laws, the consent of all states is needed and Washington can not do that. If you look at our elections, it is not the system of choice of the nation, but the system of 51 choices in 51 states. And Americans like this. Of course, there are advantages in the system that is practiced in Kazakhstan, where single organization controls everything and everyone counts. But Americans like to have a choice at the local level, and I do not think they want to change the existing system.

HARD TO GET USA VISA

- How many Americans now live and work in Kazakhstan?
– I don’t know. We don’t require all Americans living and working in Kazakhstan to register in the embassy. We recommend, but do not require. We never exactly know how many of our compatriots live here. I am sure Kazakhstan’s government has better information. I think, the figure is between 8 and 15 thousand.
- What do Americans that come to embassy complain about?
- Many have difficulty obtaining a visa to Kazakhstan, mainly those doing regular business travels. For my part, I am working with the Kazakh government to amend the procedures of obtaining visas for Kazakhs and for Americans. This would allow a greater number of Americans to travel to Kazakhstan.
- Obtaining Kazakh visa may hardly be compared to obtaining American one – that’s common opinion.
- That’s not true – there are complex rules of entry to Kazakhstan.
- In embassy, is there a kind of code of conduct in our country? If yes, do they change?
- We do not have any rules. But the website of the U.S. State Department provides such a document for each country of the world. The document reflects many issues - including security. Kazakhstan is still one of the most stable countries in the world. Of course, as in any country, there are problems, so we tell our citizens to be careful.

OUTSIDE POINT OF VIEW

- How would you rate our country on a scale of peace and stability, and what is Kazakhstan’s place in the former Soviet space in your opinion?
- It is doubtlessly one of the most stable and safe countries in CIS. Kazakhstan is leading in indices of ease of doing business, level of corruption or countering corruption standings as well.
- As far as I know, international corruption ratings provide otherwise.
- The frequently cited Transparency International says Kazakhstan is much better than other countries in Central Asia and Russia in these terms. Kazakhstan is far ahead of other ex-Soviet republics concerning many other aspects as well. But to compare with Western Europe and the United States, your country has a long journey to go.  

THE MOST DISCUSSED CURRENCY

- Let’s talk about popular anecdotes. Some media distributed persistent rumors that Federal Bank of USA will stop issuing national currency in November. Is it true?
- No! - Mr Fairfax laughed in response. – Moreover, Federal Reserve System of USA conducts the policy of so-called soft money when there is too much money in the economy.
- This causes concerns: USA releases huge amount of dollars to markets, therefore, in fact, the dollar is not sufficiently backed as a currency.
- Currency policy in this direction is very little understood at the moment. I am often asked – Why global trade always requires using the dollar as international money? I say – there is no such a requirement. When a country trades with another and they have different currencies, they choose currency of a third country that they trust and which is stable. That can be Japanese yen, Swiss franc or euro, but the greater part of deals is done in US dollars, because it is trusted. Another cause for trust is that the United States doesn’t control the dollar over the course of 60 years. Any country or company feels free to buy billions of dollars without prior consent. Besides, they can buy it anywhere – in London, Tokyo or Paris. But, for example, if you want to buy Chinese yuan, you have to ask Chinese government first.
- Maybe that’s why they prefer dollar?
– Exactly! - The ambassador laughed.

PATRIOTISM

- The flag of USA, along with that of UK, is one of the most popular flags in the world. Designers love it, and everyone in the world knows it well. Is an American flag on a car hood common thing in USA?
- I think, the only car you may see with a flag on hood will be mine, Mr Fairfax smiled. – One may encounter such a thing in USA, maybe on special occasions and events, but that’s not common.
- What about a flag pictured on t-shirts or underwear?
- American flag is everywhere: on underwear, t-shirts, on anything. You can see it not only in America, but in Beijing, Moscow, Almaty…
- What pushes Americans to do that?
- Some people do that due to patriotism, the others just because of fashion.
- In Kazakhstan to hang a flag instead of curtains is an offence. Recently, a young man was heavily fined for fastening a Kazakh flag on his car hood. What is the frontier between patriotism and disrespect to state symbols?
– The US Constitution guarantees full freedom of speech.
– Speech?
- In USA freedom of speech means freedom of any opinion. After WWII, Congress adopted laws to regulate attitude to the flag – its usage for commercial and any other purposes except the designated one was limited in all terms. But later, Supreme Court of the United States canceled it. So, today any American may either hang up a flag or wear it, or even burn it down – this is quite legal.

PROTECTION OF AMERICAN INTERESTS

- You have worked in many countries – you have enough experience to compare. What is a mentality in your understanding?
- The answer to this question will fit a professor’s book rather than a newspaper article. Every country has unique features. There is a vast difference between America and Europe, for example. The difference is even bigger between East and West.
- What are Kazakh features in these terms?
- I can hardly call them unique – there is much Asian countries have in common, but Kazakhstan differs in that it can be proud of its culture and history and be open to the world at the same time. The ability of maintaining balance at a joint is a good foundation for the future.
- Security of Western investments both on land and sea is carried out by Kazakhstan’s forces. Recently, our country, particularly our region, suffered from frequent terrorist actions. Does it cause concerns to the US and intention to enhance security, maybe, using own forces?
- No. This is an independent country. This is out of the question. Nobody ever raised this question before as well. We have always been actively cooperating with Kazakhstan in military training and combined exercises.
- Let’s assume a direct terrorist threat to your investments in Kazakhstan?
- We believe that Kazakhstan’s government can adequately respond to any threat. And we are quite happy with it.

By Zulfiya BAINEKEYEVA

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