The Cable

Obama: We're still working on our democracy

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still "working on" democracy and a top aide said he has taken "historic steps" to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office.

The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev -- one of the U.S. president's many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week's nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

"In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights," NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. "Both presidents agreed that you don't ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy."

The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman asked McFaul to clarify.

"You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States' issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy," Weisman said. "Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?"

"Absolutely not ... There was no equivalence meant whatsoever," McFaul said. "[Obama's]   taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States."

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told Weisman, "There was no pressure at all in the meeting," and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is "the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

The warm welcome for Nazarbayev underscores the extent to which Kazakhstan, which agreed in January to allow NATO to ship nonlethal cargo through its territory, has become critical to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan -- especially given the ongoing instability in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the U.S. military leases an important airbase.

Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1991, when the country became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union, and his highly centralized rule has been heavily criticized by human rights monitors.

The State Department's own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House's 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan "not free" and said, "Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society -- behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached."

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, "An atmosphere of quiet repression."

"Putting the United States in the same category as a country such as Kazakhstan is ridiculous, said Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. "President Obama should be using the success of America's democratic experience to encourage foreign leaders to improve their own systems, not implying that we are all in the same boat."

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The Cable

White House announces nuclear summit attendees

Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych scored a coveted one-on-one meeting with President Obama Monday on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, the White House announced.

That makes 10 bilateral meetings out of 46  countries attending (47 including the United States). Of those 47, 38 are represented by their heads of state or heads of government.

For the full roster of who is getting a meeting with Obama, read this.

And look here for a schedule of the summit's events beginning tomorrow.

The White House also announced the names of all the delegations heads, including those from the European Union and the United Nations, after the break.

People's Democratic Republic of Algeria

His Excellency Mourad Medelci

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria

Argentine Republic

Her Excellency Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

President of the Argentine Republic

Republic of Armenia

His Excellency Serzh Sargsyan

President of the Republic of Armenia


The Honorable Senator John Faulkner

Minister for Defense of Australia


His Excellency Yves Leterme

Prime Minister of Belgium

Federative Republic of Brazil

His Excellency Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

President of the Federative Republic of Brazil


The Right Honorable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

Republic of Chile

His Excellency Sebastián Piñera

President of the Republic of Chile

People's Republic of China

His Excellency Hu Jintao

President of the People's Republic of China

Czech Republic

His Excellency Jan Fischer

Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

Arab Republic of Egypt

His Excellency Ahmed Aboul Gheit

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt

European Union

His Excellency Herman Van Rompuy

President of the European Council

Republic of Finland

Her Excellency Tarja Halonen

President of the Republic of Finland

French Republic

His Excellency Nicolas Sarkozy

President of the French Republic


His Excellency Mikheil Saakashvili

President of Georgia

Federal Republic of Germany

Her Excellency Dr. Angela Merkel

Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Republic of India

His Excellency Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of the Republic of India

Republic of Indonesia

His Excellency Dr. Boediono

Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia

International Atomic Energy Agency

Mr. Yukiya Amano

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency


His Excellency Dan Meridor

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy of Israel

Italian Republic

His Excellency Silvio Berlusconi

President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic


His Excellency Yukio Hatoyama

Prime Minister of Japan

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein

King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Republic of Kazakhstan

His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev

President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Republic of Korea

His Excellency Lee Myung-bak

President of the Republic of Korea


The Honorable Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak

Prime Minister of Malaysia

United Mexican States

His Excellency Felipe Calderon Hinojosa

President of the United Mexican States

Kingdom of Morocco

His Excellency Abbas El Fassi

Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco

Kingdom of the Netherlands

His Excellency Dr. Jan Peter Balkenende

Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

New Zealand

The Honorable John Key

Prime Minister of New Zealand

Federal Republic of Nigeria

His Excellency Dr. Goodluck E. Jonathan

Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria


His Excellency Jens Stoltenberg

Prime Minister of Norway

Islamic Republic of Pakistan

His Excellency Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani

Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Republic of Philippines

Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

President of the Republic of the Philippines

Republic of Poland

His Excellency Radoslaw Sikorski

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

Russian Federation

His Excellency Dmitry A. Medvedev

President of the Russian Federation

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

His Royal Highness Prince Muqrin bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud

President of the General Intelligence Presidency of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Republic of Singapore

His Excellency Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore

Republic of South Africa

His Excellency Jacob Zuma

President of the Republic of South Africa


His Excellency José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

President of the Government of Spain


His Excellency Fredrik Reinfeldt

Prime Minister of Sweden

Swiss Confederation

Her Excellency Doris Leuthard

President of the Swiss Confederation

Kingdom of Thailand

His Excellency Trairong Suwankiri

Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand

Republic of Turkey

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey


His Excellency Viktor Yanukovych

President of Ukraine

United Arab Emirates

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces

United Kingdom

The Right Honorable David Miliband, M.P.

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

United Nations

His Excellency Ban Ki-moon

Secretary-General of the United Nations

United States

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

His Excellency Nguyen Tan Dung

Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam