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Kyrgyzstan: Negotiations Over U.S. Base Enter Second Day

U.S. military at the gates of the Ganci air base on May 31 (ITAR-TASS) U.S. and Kyrgyz experts and government officials are meeting in Bishkek in a effort to resolve a dispute over the lease of an air base that is being used by Washington for military operations in nearby Afghanistan. No details emerged from the first round of talks that took place on May 31. Negotiations resumed today behind closed doors.

PRAGUE, June 1, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The dispute over the U.S. Ganci military air base surfaced shortly after the change of political leadership that occurred in Bishkek in March 2005.

Kyrgyzstan's new president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, said in September that the U.S. should pay more for the use of the land on which the base is located.

"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."

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

Raising The Rent

But in a February 15 interview with Russia's "Kommersant" daily, Bakiev said he wanted Washington to pay $207 million a year for the use of the base. He added that that was about 100 times more than the rent the United States has been paying.

The Ganci military base, which is located at Kyrgyzstan's Manas Airport, was established in 2001 and serves as a supply and refueling facility for U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Its has grown in strategic importance since the Pentagon was forced last year to vacate the Khanabad air base in neighboring Uzbekistan.

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."

In another interview given to RFE/RL on the eve of the current talks, Boucher said he was confident both sides could reach a "friendly solution."

No Political Pressure?

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov on May 31 insisted that the current dispute is just a question of money and had "no political undertone." However, he made it clear the further existence of the base did not depend only on the will of Kyrgyzstan, which is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional military grouping that also includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Armenia.

"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."

In 2003, Russia set up it own military base in Kant, some 30 kilometers from the Manas base.

President Bakiev has made it clear his government would not charge Moscow for the use of the base because it was established within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

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

But his office 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."

Kyrgyzstan's 24.Kg news agency today quotes a source close to the talks as saying each side looks determined to "defend its interests" and that the negotiations are expected to continue until late in the evening.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports the Kyrgyz delegation is headed by Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov. It says the U.S. team is led by State Department adviser Robert Loftis. Loftis is the man who recently negotiated the establishment of three U.S. military bases in Bulgaria.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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