German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on a five-nation tour of Central Asia called Tuesday for comprehensive political reforms in the region.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Kazakh capital Astana
Speaking in the Kazakh capital of Astana, Steinmeier urged Kazakhstan to speed up the pace of reform, which would make the country more attractive to German investors.
Tengiz, the biggest oil field in Kazakhstan
After talks with government officials, the German official said that Kazakhstan more than its neighbors had struck out on a path towards political openness, which Steinmeier said contributed to the country's economic boom.
Kazakhstan has seen double-digit economic growth in the recent past thanks to its rich deposits of oil and gas.
Two months before Germany takes over the presidency of the European Union, Steinmeier is sounding out whether the bloc should formulate a new Central Asian policy.
The EU would like to form closer ties to the region, in part because of concerns about its own energy security. But the bloc is making closer cooperation dependent on progress regarding the country's human rights situation and democratic reforms.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
Critics of the government say Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has all but eliminated the opposition, cracked down on press freedom and done little to fight corruption and red tape.
A meeting with Nazarbayev, who since 1991 has enjoyed absolute power, is not expected, although it was announced that Nazarbayev would visit Berlin at the end of 2007.
So far, Steinmeier has met with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov and Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev as well as representatives of the estimated 230,000 to 360,000 ethnic Germans living in the country.
Topics for the talks included Kazakhstan's candidacy for the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. The United States and Britain have asked the country to delay its chair until 2011, which Tokayev has refused. Berlin is making its support contingent on political reforms.
Steinmeier has said he would support Kazakhstan's acceptance into the World Trade Organization, the negotiations for which are in their final phase and should be decided in early 2007.
The German foreign minister flies to Uzbekistan on Wednesday and is expected to visit the other Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan later in the week.
Map of Central Asia (country names printed with German spellings)