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Kyrgyzstan: Negotiations Over U.S. Base End Inconclusively

  • Jean-Christophe Peuch

http://gdb.rferl.org/FB8DC0AC-6061-463B-BA56-C80DDE8690FB_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/FB8DC0AC-6061-463B-BA56-C80DDE8690FB_mw800_mh600.jpg U.S. airmen at the Kyrgyz base (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) Negotiations aimed at settling a payment dispute over the military air base the United States maintains in Kyrgyzstan ended today in Bishkek with no results in sight. The U.S. delegation is expected to return to Washington on June 2 for consultations and the talks are set to resume at a date to be determined.


PRAGUE, June 1, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The negotiations have been taking place behind closed doors since May 31.


The Kyrgyz and American delegations were respectively headed by Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov and Ambassador Robert Loftis, a senior adviser to the U.S. State Department.

Foreign Minister Jekshenkulov suggested the dispute was not just about the rent. He listed "ecology, security, and taxes" among the other sticking points examined during the past two days.

Loftis was closely involved in the negotiations over a recent agreement that will allow Washington to maintain military facilities and troops in Bulgaria.


Concluded At U.S. Request


In comments made to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service at the end of the second day of talks, Jekshenkulov said negotiations were suspended at the request of the U.S. side.


"We worked for two days and have now completed the first round of talks," he said. "It is too early to say anything about the results. Both sides exchanged their views on each point, on each article. Special Ambassador [Loftis] told us that some issues have to be decided in Washington. [The U.S. representatives] will return to Washington and the talks will resume after they have consultations there."


Jekshenkulov did not elaborate on the present state of the talks, saying both sides had agreed to refrain from any public comment for the time being.


The Manas air base (which is informally called the Ganci air base by the Kyrgyz side) was opened in 2001 as part of the U.S.-led military campaign against the ruling Taliban militia in Afghanistan. It is located at Bishkek's Manas Airport.


The base has grown in strategic importance since the United States military was forced last year to vacate the Khanabad air base in neighboring Uzbekistan.


In September, however, new Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said Washington should pay more for the use of the land on which the base is located.


The terms of the bilateral agreement that regulate the use of the Manas base were never made public.


Rent Increase


But in a February 15 interview with Russia's "Kommersant" daily, Bakiev said he wants to charge Washington $207 million a year. He added that this is about 100 times more than the rent the United States is currently paying.


Richard Boucher , the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in April that Washington is determined to maintain a military presence in the region, whatever the cost.


"The [Manas] base is very important to us and to Kyrgyzstan and to the countries of the region to be able to fight the danger of terrorism that affects all of us," Boucher said. "That is why the base is here. That is why we want it to stay here, and that is why the government wants it to stay here. We are also prepared to pay the costs of having the base here."


But Foreign Minister Jekshenkulov today suggested the dispute was not just about the rent. He listed "ecology, security, and taxes" among the other sticking points that were examined during the past two days.


Russian Influence?


Some regional analysts believe Russia is secretly pulling the strings behind Kyrgyzstan.


Since 2003 Moscow has been maintaining its own air base in Kant, some 30 kilometers from Bishkek.


Bakiev has said that his government will not charge Moscow for the use of the Kant air base because it was set up within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional defense grouping that brings together Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Armenia.


Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov insisted on May 31 that the current dispute over the Manas base has "no political undertone."


However, he made it clear the further existence of the U.S. military facility does not solely depend on Kyrgyzstan's goodwill.


The gates of the U.S. Manas Air Base (undated TASS file photo)

"When a decision was being made to establish this base for the [U.S.-led] antiterrorism coalition [in Afghanistan], no deadline was set [with regard to the length of the lease]," Kulov said. "It was agreed that that would depend on the duration of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, life in Afghanistan remains unstable and the existence of the [Ganci] air base depends on the situation there. That was the deal [at the time the agreement was signed]. This deal is based on the assent of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty [Organization], first of all Russia."


Bakiev had earlier indicated that if the United States did not agree to pay more for the use of the Manas base by June 1, his government could terminate the lease agreement.


But his office early today released a statement saying that "given the positive development of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations," a decision was made to extend the deadline and conclude the talks in the "nearest future."

RFE/RL Central Asia Report


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