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Rice: Kazakh democracy before oil



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ASTANA, Kazakhstan (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refuted claims by the opposition in Kazakhstan that Washington's primary concern is oil, followed by the war on terrorism, and not democracy as she claimed in a speech.

Rice, visiting the oil-rich central Asian country on Thursday, made the comments in response to a question from CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, who noted that members of the Kazakh opposition said Rice's "soft words have no impact."

"I think if we were interested only in oil and the war on terrorism, we would not be speaking in the way that we are about democracy here, or in Saudi Arabia, or throughout the Middle East," Rice said during a news conference with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

"While we do have interests in terms of resources and in terms of the struggle for terrorism, we have in no way allowed those interests to get in the way of our open and clear defense of freedom. We have talked about that in any number of circumstances."

Rice said she met after her speech with two people who will be part of campaigns leading up to Kazakhstan's December presidential elections, and will take their concerns back to Washington.

"We will press for free and fair elections here, just like we've pressed for free and fair elections everywhere else in the world," she said.

Rice visited Kazakhstan during a tour of the region. She already has visited Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On Wednesday she promised Pakistani officials that the U.S. would support the country's earthquake relief efforts and help it rebuild.

"While we try to be responsive now, we know there is more to be done," Rice told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The United States has committed $50 million to immediate relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake, which killed at least 20,000 people in Pakistan alone. (Full story)

"Pakistan and the United States are great friends, and that is not just friendship between governments, but it's friendship between our peoples," Rice said.

Pakistan has been a key ally in the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan, committing troops to help rout out Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents in Pakistan's tribal regions near the Afghan border.

Rice also met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul earlier Wednesday.

Before leaving Islamabad, Rice personally thanked U.S. and Afghan troops -- lined up on the tarmac at the Islamabad airport -- who are helping with the earthquake relief and recovery effort.

"I was just with President Karzai, he is very proud of what you are doing," she told one Afghan soldier.

After her meeting with Karzai, Rice reiterated the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and the war on terrorism, saying U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan "as long as they are needed and in whatever numbers they are needed."

On Tuesday, Rice visited Kyrgyzstan and won fresh assurances from its new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, that the United States can continue to use its air base in Manas on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek. (Full story)

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