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Cameron Signs $1 Billion in Deals With Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) shakes hands with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, July 1, 2013.
British Prime Minister David Cameron signed $1 billion in deals with Kazakhstan during a visit Monday, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev defended the former Soviet state's human rights record from international criticism.

Cameron, the first serving British leader to visit the Central Asian nation, also inaugurated on the shores of the Caspian Sea the world's costliest oil and gas facility, which is intended to provide energy for European countries.

"As I was delayed in my flight from Pakistan, I landed and I said I was sorry to the president for being over an hour delayed and he said as he had waited over 20 years for the visit of a serving British prime minister, he was quite willing to allow me that slight delay. It's a huge pleasure to be here," said Cameron.

Kazakhstan's $200-billion economy is the largest in Central Asia, and the country has deep oil and gas reserves.

Cameron said the main purpose of his visit is to boost trade. A 30-member business delegation accompanied him on his trip.

He said he also is hoping to persuade Kazakhstan to expand transit rights for British military forces relocating equipment from Afghanistan between now and a planned withdrawal next year.

In addition, the British leader said he discussed allegations of government repression with Nazarbayev, a former Communist party leader who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter Friday urging Cameron to discuss what it called credible allegations of torture in Kazakhstan, as well as the imprisonment of government critics and tight controls over the media and freedom of expression.

The Kazakh leader responded coolly, saying Westerners often viewed his country through a distorted prism.