Nazarbayev has stated that the geographic location of Kazakhstan and its ethnic makeup dictate its "multipolar orientation toward both the West and the East." Kazakhstan has railway and air links with China and extensive trade ties with Xinjiang Province, where many ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs reside. Nazarbayev has visited Turkey and Iran. The Kazakh legislature ratified the Lisbon Protocol, the START Treaty, and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty in 1992. The following year, it voted to ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In April 1995, the last of approximately 1,040 nuclear warheads were removed from SS-18 missiles in Kazakhstan and transferred to Russia, allowing Kazakhstan to announce that it had become a nuclear weapons-free state. In 1995, Kazakhstan joined a customs union formed by Russia and Belarus, which was reaffirmed in an accord on "deeper integration" signed in 1996. The economic crisis in Russia in the late 1990s, however, has led Kazakhstan and Russia to levy high tariffs on each other's trade goods, vitiating the customs pact. In an interview soon after his inaugural address, Nazarbayev called for tariffs to be equitably applied within the customs union. While criticizing Russian tariff policies, he nonetheless emphasized that Kazakhstan considered itself a "friend of Russia." He stressed that Kazakhstan would renew its commitment to the CIS Collective Security Treaty because "Russia remains the strongest country among us in military and defense terms," and so is best able to assist Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev is one of the leading proponents of strengthened cooperation among the former Soviet states. In November 2001, he challenged Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (the other CIS oil-producing countries) to join with his country to build an organization like the Middle East's Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to exploit and distribute their vast oil reserves. Continuing with a similar theme, in March 2002 Nazarbayev urged his counterparts in the other CIS countries to join him in working toward more rapid integration.
There is significant international interest in Kazakh's oil reserves. The United States invested over US $10 billion in the country, most dedicated to oil and gas exploration. As Nazarbayev began to grasp the scope of the Kazakh oil fields, he and the legislators proposed laws that would end what they describe as preferential treatment for foreign investors. These investors found the proposals threatening, however, since they would make it difficult to seek settlement of disputes through international arbitration, and make it easier for the Kazakh government to nationalize private property. Nonetheless, the lure of oil and gas reserves is strong, and Nazarbayev visited the United States in late 2001, where he met with President George W. Bush, and the two countries entered into a partnership to develop energy resources in the Caspian Sea region.
On the tenth anniversary of its independence, Nazarbayev spoke of his country's successes, including its progress toward democratization, national currency, and functioning banking system. At the same time, he reasserted his view that new democracies need strong leaders to succeed.
In 2003, Nazarbayev emphasized the need for Asia to establish international institutions regarding security. He also stressed the need for further regional integration between Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Nazarbayev met with officials from China to reinforce the two countries' friendlly relations in April 2003.