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U.S., Kyrgyzstan Reportedly Draft New Deal On Manas

  • Bruce Pannier

U.S. soldiers arrive at Manas from Afghanistan earlier this year.

U.S. soldiers arrive at Manas from Afghanistan earlier this year.

Washington and Bishkek have reached a last-minute accord that could allow U.S. troops to continue using Kyrgyzstan's Manas air base to resupply troops in Afghanistan.

A text of the deal has passed through several parliamentary committees and could be adopted in a plenary session within days.

The Kyrgyz government ordered the U.S. facility closed by August earlier this year, soon after the Kyrgyz president received assurances of some $2 billion in loans from Russia.

But intense lobbying by regional leaders and the U.S. president, coupled with a pledge of more rent money, appear to have swayed Kyrgyz officials to change their decision.

Regional Effect

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek told RFE/RL that his country applauded "the decision by the Kyrgyz Republic to continue to play a key role as the international community broadens and deepens its commitment to bringing stability and security to Afghanistan and the region."

U.S. troops have used Manas to support Afghan operations since late 2001.

Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev cited concerns about the worsening regional security situation in announcing the Kyrgyz government's change of heart.

"Unfortunately, it needs to be stated that despite the efforts of forces of the government of Afghanistan and forces of the international coalition, the situation in [Afghanistan], especially in light of the events in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, show a tendency toward becoming worse," Sarbaev said. "And in the event of instability in the future, this could have an effect on the security situation in the states of Central Asia, in particular on Kyrgyzstan."

New Lease Terms

The lease terms have been changed, including a more than tripling of the annual fee.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported that the agreement under debate in parliament allows for the transport of nonlethal cargo, a point of considerable speculation during the talks.

The United States will increase its payments to the Kyrgyz government from some $18 million annually to $60 million for use of Manas.

Additionally, the United States will provide Kyrgyzstan with $36 million to expand the tarmac at Manas and build hangars, $30 million for new navigation equipment, $21 million to combat drug trafficking, and $10 million to fight terrorism.

Kyrgyz lawmaker Rashid Tagaev, a member of Kyrgyzstan's ruling Ak-Jol faction, noted during a parliamentary session that the decision came after lobbying from Karzai.

Tagaev predicted that a continued U.S. presence at Manas would boost security in Kyrgyzstan.

"We are not such a big state, we don't have a very big army," Tagaev said. "Kyrgyzstan, with a population of more than 5 million, must, in my opinion, orient itself toward the situation in the world; and the situation was analyzed and we took this decision."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Kyrgyzstan in May and urged the Kyrgyz to allow the Manas base to remain open.

U.S. President Barack Obama wrote the Kyrgyz president with a similar request.

Russian Anger

The decision is unlikely to please Moscow, which has sought to reassert its former influence among post-Soviet republics in Central Asia and elsewhere.

The first deputy chairman of the Russian Duma's Committee on Security, Mikhail Grishankov, hinted as much after the announcement of the U.S.-Kyrgyz breakthrough. Grishankov said the presence of U.S. forces on the territory of the former Soviet Union would have negative implications for security in the region.

Another committee member, Semyon Bagdasarov, added that "by its decision Kyrgyzstan has discredited itself as an ally of Russia."

Russia has a base in Kyrgyzstan at Kant, not far from Manas.

Many suspect the Russian loan to Kyrgyzstan earlier this year was conditioned on the closure of the U.S. facility at Manas, which Russian media have accused Washington of using to carry out espionage.

with contributions from RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service director Tynchtykbek Tchoroev
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