Yeltsin's Key Partners

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Only one man could bring the four predominantly Muslim republics of Central Asia into the commonwealth: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. But he is not likely to be bought easily. Irritated that he had not been consulted by the three Slavic republics, he initially sided with Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing that the President "has not yet exhausted his possibilities." By week's end he agreed to join the commonwealth -- provided that Kazakhstan would be recognized as a co-founder.

As head of the sole Central Asian republic outfitted with nuclear weapons, only Nazarbayev can quell Western qualms about a divided weapons arsenal. And only Nazarbayev can lay to rest Muslim fears of Slavic dominance. Short, stocky and sophisticated, Nazarbayev, 51, came to international prominence during the August coup when he steered a level-headed course between renouncing the reactionaries and warning Yeltsin against politically explosive attempts to rearrange borders. He was tapped after the coup to introduce the notion of a state council comprising Gorbachev and the republic leaders.

Born into a family of mountain shepherds, Nazarbayev joined the Communist Party at 22 and went on to become an engineer. He eventually landed a Central Committee post as secretary for industry. In 1989 he was named his republic's party leader, and quit only after the coup attempt. While his political instincts remain cautious, his economic boldness may convince Westerners that he is a man with whom they can do business.

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