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U.S. Says Talks On Extending Manas Lease Progressing

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov denied talks are ongoing.
(RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Defense Department says there is "reason to hope" that negotiations with Kyrgyzstan could result in an extension of the United States' use of Manas air base.

The Kyrgyz government on February 20 gave the United States six months to vacate the facility, which the military has leased since late 2001 for use as an air bridge to ferry troops and military supplies to Afghanistan.

"I think there's actually progress in dealing with the Kyrgyz on Manas, and so I don't think we have anything to announce there yet, but I think that we [have] been engaged in conversations with them about extending our use of that facility," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on April 28.

"And I think we see reason for hope there, that that can be worked out."

The statement received mixed reactions from Kyrgyz political leaders.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov maintained he was not aware of any ongoing negotiations over Manas air base. "Not a single government official has been authorized to hold such negotiations," he said. "No one. I have no information about any such negotiations."

However, Omurbek Tekebaev, the leader of Ata-Meken opposition party, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that bilateral talks on the possible renewal of the Manas lease are taking place, and could soon result in a new lease.

"According to information I have received, the U.S. military presence in Manas air base will be prolonged for another three years," Tekebaev said.

Russia Opposed?

The base, which the United States has leased since December 2001, is considered vital for supporting U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Some 1,000, mostly U.S. troops are stationed at Manas, along with 650 U.S. and local contractors. The base provides support for 15,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, and delivers 500 tons of cargo per month for that purpose.

It has been widely speculated that financial issues and Russian pressure were instrumental in leading Bishkek to decide to end the Manas lease agreement with Washington.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced the decision during his trip to Moscow last February, after securing a pledge from Russia for over $2 billion in aid and loans to Kyrgyzstan.

Bakiev has said that over the past three years the United States has ignored Kyrgyzstan's repeated requests to increase "economic compensation" for its use of the air base.

The United States reportedly paid $17.4 million in annual rent for the base. Kyrgyzstan has also received some $150 million a year in U.S. assistance.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have indicated in the past that Washington is willing to pay more for use of the base.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report