U.S. Signs Kazakh Army Deal

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- In a new military cooperation pact certain to irritate Russia, the United States promised Kazakhstan on Friday to help it bring its armed forces up to NATO standards.

On a visit to Kazakhstan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Mitchell Shivers signed a new five-year cooperation plan with Kazakhstan envisioning fresh U.S. assistance in matters ranging from military reform and equipment to education.

"This is a building block in the expanding partnership between our two nations," Shivers said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy.

"As a member of NATO, the U.S. is committed to helping Kazakhstan in improving its inter-operability with equipment and training to U.S. and NATO standards," he said.

In a symbolic gesture of support for the West, Kazakhstan has sent a contingent of military engineers to assist U.S. military efforts in Iraq. Washington has shown interest in Kazakh plans to build up its naval force on the Caspian Sea to guard its offshore oil fields and diversify arms imports. "We declare our intention to strengthen our security relationship through increased dialogue and defense military cooperation," the two sides said in a joint statement.