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Another Day, Another New US Military Base
US and Kyrgyzstan sign new air base deal
By Isabel Gorst in Moscow, Financial Times
Kyrgyzstan said on Tuesday it would temporarily allow the US to continue using a military air base on its territory that is critical to coalition forces fighting the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Kadyrbek Sarbayev, the Kyrgyz foreign minister, said Washington had agreed to more than triple the rent for use of the Manas base, a transit hub used for refuelling aircraft carrying troops to Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan gave the US six months to vacate Manas last February after accepting a promise of $2bn of financial assistance from Russia which objects to the presence of US troops in former Soviet central Asia.
Mr Sarbayev said a one-year agreement signed with the US would increase annual payments for use of Manas to $60m from $17m. The US would also provide $67m to improve the airport and contribute funds to combat drug trafficking and terrorism in Kyrgyzstan.
He redefined the military base as a “transit centre” without making clear whether the US would be restricted from funnelling military cargo through Manas.
The US, which plans to deploy thousands of extra troops to counter the Taliban’s growing resistance in Afghanistan, welcomed the Kyrgyz decision.
“We applaud the decision by the Kyrgyz republic to continue to play a key role as the international community broadens and deepens its commitment to bring stability and security to Afghanistan and the region,” the US embassy in Bishkek said.
Mr Sarbayev said it was in Kyrgyzstan’s national interest to support the US-led coalition to prevent a further deterioration of security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Analysts said the future of the Manas base would be on the agenda when Barack Obama, US president, meets Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, in Moscow next month.
The two men will aim to repair relations damaged by Russian military conflict with Georgia in a war last summer and US plans to deploy an anti-ballistic shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that Moscow says will upset the military balance of power in Europe.
Manas has been the only US base in central Asia since Uzbekistan closed a base on its territory in 2006 after western governments accused it of abusing human rights.
Russia, which maintains military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan, offered the US-led coalition use of its territory as a transit route for non-lethal goods bound for Afghanistan, but has refused deploy troops to Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan has come under intense international pressure to reverse the decision to close Manas.
Mr Obama wrote to Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the president of Kyrgyzstan, this month expressing his hope for continued co-operation between the two countries.
Political analysts said Kyrgyzstan would ask the US not to criticise the handling of a presidential election next month which Mr Bakiyev, who swept to power after a popular uprising in 2006, is expected to win.