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U.S. Says Kyrgyzstan To Honor Base Agreements

Roza Otunbaeva, the interim government leader of Kyrgyzstan, spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The interim leader of Kyrgyzstan has agreed to abide by previous agreements on Manas Airport, a key supply base for U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. State Department said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Kyrgyzstan's Roza Otunbaeva by phone, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley said in a statement.

"Ms. Otunbaeva confirmed the Kyrgyz administration will abide by previous agreements regarding the [airport]," Crowley said. "The Secretary is dispatching Assistant Secretary Robert Blake out to Kyrgyzstan to follow up on her discussion."

The call came after the United States stopped all troops flying to Afghanistan via the base as security concerns persisted following the uprising in the Central Asian republic.

The Manas base is key to the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, but a thorn in the side of Russia, which has given its support to the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in a poor ex-Soviet state that it sees as part of its back yard.

An envoy from the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe said the new provisional government had held talks with Bakiev on ways to end the crisis.

Bakiev has retreated to a secret location in his stronghold in the south, and had offered the new rulers negotiations.

It was not clear how the talks were conducted or whether the aim went beyond discussing the terms of Bakiev's departure -- the only issue the interim government had said it would discuss.

But Bakiev told Russian “Newsweek” magazine he was prepared to resign, according to excerpts from an interview released ahead of publication.

"Yes, I am ready. If they want me to resign," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "But I do not know what I will get in exchange. Therefore, we have to meet and discuss."

"My plan of action is to preserve stability at least in the south of Kyrgyzstan. I will do everything possible to prevent a civil war as the people who are being appointed (to senior posts) also cause certain discontent."

Otunbaeva, interim leader of a country where a third of the 5.3 million population live below the poverty line, has offered Bakiev safe passage abroad if he steps down.

Visiting OSCE envoy Zhanybek Karibzhanov told reporters:

"I can't say anything yet on the results of the talks but the most important thing is that the process has started."

Up to 10,000 mourners gathered on the edge of Bishkek at a funeral to commemorate at least 78 people killed when troops loyal to Bakiyev shot into crowds of protesters on April 7.

In a reflection of the lingering tension, the U.S. military Central Command said all military passenger flights had been suspended from Manas, and cargo flights were not guaranteed.

A U.S. official in Washington said the decision was made by the base commander on security grounds.

Pentagon officials say Manas is key to the war against the Taliban, allowing around-the-clock flights in and out of Afghanistan. About 50,000 troops passed through last month.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government has said Russia is its key ally and some leading ministers have said the U.S. lease on the base could be shortened. A top Russian official said this week there should be only one base in Kyrgyzstan: Russia's Kant base.