Iranian diplomats are on record as supporting the fuel bank initiative, but little concrete progress has been made, prompting many observers to cast doubt on Tehran's insistence that it is not developing nuclear technology for military ends.
The fuel bank "should be a complete answer to Iran's concerns — the fact that it is not indicates that the Iranian interest is not fuel supply but something else," said John Carlson, an adviser to the Washington D.C.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative.
The oil-rich nation's strategic geographical position abutting Russia and China, while fostering warm ties with Europe and the United States, have necessitated a nuanced diplomatic approach.
Kazakhstan and its neighboring former Soviet Central Asian nations are ambivalent toward the West's pressure on Iran, which make them useful intermediaries for Tehran. Speaking to Russian reporters in 2011, Nazarbayev insisted on pursuing diplomacy to solve questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program.
"If we talk about the Iranian nuclear program, then why don't we talk about the same program in Pakistan, and why not talk about Israel, which does in fact have nuclear weapons?" he said.
In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the government has said it will not renew the lease on a U.S. air transit facility there used for military operations in Afghanistan when it expires in 2014 because, among other reasons, it fears that it could be subject to retaliation should Iran be attacked.
Countries in the region also have economic interests at stake. Turkmenistan, which shares a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) land border with Iran, was delivering an average 1 billion cubic feet (30 million cubic meters) of natural gas daily to Iran between July 2011 and June 2012, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures.
Cultural ties and growing investment from Iran into Persian-speaking Tajikistan have also served well to secure Tehran another potential ally.
Central Asia expert Sebastien Peyrouse said in a paper published last year that countries in region feel in any event secure that they would not be target of Iranian nuclear attacks.
"They believe that if Iran got this capability, it would not use it against them. Iran as a state and a nation is highly respected in Central Asia, and there is no feeling of distrust towards a long-term partnership with it," Peyrouse wrote.
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