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U.S. Says It Could Still Avert Kyrgyz Air Base Closure

U.S. servicemen at the Manas air base in February
U.S. servicemen at the Manas air base in February
MOSCOW -- The United States still thinks it could avert the closure of an air base in Kyrgyzstan used to supply troops in Afghanistan, its only air base in Central Asia, a senior U.S. administration official said on Friday.

The official, speaking on condition he was not identified, told reporters in Moscow that Washington was still talking to the Kyrgyz government about the future of the air base at Manas.

Kyrgyzstan decided last month to close the base after securing a $2 billion aid package from Russia. A spokesman for Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on March 27 it had not changed its position.

"We are still engaged with the Kyrgyz in terms of the base at Manas," the U.S. official said. "They have given us notification and they want to end the presence of the U.S. basing abilities in Kyrgyzstan, but the story is not over there yet."

Asked whether a new agreement on the future of the Manas base was possible, the official said, "It's possible."

"The U.S. has other options, too. The Manas base is one which we find useful, but it's not going to seriously affect our abilities to supply our forces in Afghanistan if the base is closed. There are other basing options," the official said.

The Kremlin denied it had pressured Kyrgysztan to make the move but diplomats disagreed, saying Moscow wanted to bolster its political and diplomatic power over former Soviet territory in Central Asia.

Moscow has since agreed to allow trains carrying nonmilitary supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan to cross Russian territory.

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