Nobel Prize for Alleged Human Rights Offender?

"That's a very funny thing – whenever there's an election in Kazakh, everybody tries to find some very critical statements in the reports" by independent monitors, Ussenov said. "What they fail to see. . . is that every report is better than the previous one. There's clear progress."

While democracy watchdogs and human rights groups faulted the election, not everyone frowned on the outcome. Nazarbayev's victory was reportedly reassuring to oil companies and investors who wanted stability in the country after having signed billions of dollars worth of contracts with his government.

Nazarbeyev's opinion of his accomplishments appears closer to that of Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Charlie Melancon, D-La., the lawmakers nominating him for a Nobel. His 2002 memoir is entitled "Epicenter of Peace." The tome is "an unprecedented book about unprecedented decisions," according to a press release for the book on the web site for the Kazakhstan embassy in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several years, he has also reportedly spent millions on U.S. lobbying firms to shore up a more positive image of himself and his country. Ussenov said that no lobbying arrangements currently exist, "to my understanding, as far as I know." Documents filed with the Department of Justice show the country was represented until Dec. 31, 2007, by lobbying giant APCO Worldwide, who billed the nation roughly $900,000 a month.

A spokesman for Rep. Issa first deferred to comments made for a previous article on the letter on the regional news Web site "I'm not really interested in spending more time" discussing the matter, spokesman Frederick Hill told

Hill then noted that Issa sat on the House intelligence committee, which handled non-proliferation work, and that he developed his appreciation for Nazarbayev's efforts while working on a House panel which dealt with Central Asia.

Asked if Issa had ever been lobbied on behalf of Kazakhstan, Hill responded, "I think I've said enough."

Hill could not confirm that any other lawmakers had agreed to sign the letter to the Nobel committee, because it was still being circulated. He noted that a professor from the University of New Mexico wanted to join the effort but did not have his name at hand.

The letter was not Issa's first effort on behalf of Kazakhstan's interests; in 2005 he was the featured speaker at a U.S.-Kazakh business conference in San Diego, reportedly attended by Kazakh and U.S. officials, and by executives from Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies.

Rep. Melancon has also pushed for stronger ties between Kazakhstan and U.S. companies, particularly oil and gas companies from his home state of Louisiana, according to the lawmaker's Web site. Melancon's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

If Issa and Melancon succeed, it would not be the first time a controversial figure was nominated for the award. Indeed, a few have even won. Henry Kissinger, for example, was a co-winner of the Peace Prize in 1973, despite his controversial role in secret bombing campaigns in southeast Asia as an adviser to former president Nixon.

But it is not clear Nazarbayev would consent to compete for the award, or accept it if the Nobel committee tried to give it to him. The Kazakh People's Assembly nominated Nazarbayev for the Nobel in 2006, according to a Kazakh news article at the time. Nazarbayev thanked the Assembly, the article said, but commented that "it is not up to us to decide, we are working not for rewards, but for the good of our country."

Embassy spokesman Ussenov declined to comment on the lawmakers' efforts, calling it an internal U.S. affair.

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