The United States says it is still awaiting a formal notification from the government of Kyrgyzstan that it will no longer allow U.S. forces to use a base there critical to Afghan military operations. State Department officials say there are other options if the ouster is confirmed.
Obama administration officials say they have gotten nothing in writing about the Manas air base decision, even though several Kyrgyz officials, including President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, have said this week the access agreement is being terminated.
The Manas airbase in northern Kyrgyzstan, originally built by the Soviet Union, has been used by the United States for several years as a key refueling stop for military cargo flights into Afghanistan.
Kyrgyz President Bakiyev announced the closure of the base earlier this week on a visit to Moscow, during which Russia said it would provide the former Soviet Republic with two billion dollars in financial aid and credits. A spokesman for the government in Bishkek Friday said the closure decision is final.
However at a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid reiterated there has been no official notification from Kyrgyzstan on the status of the base, and that normal operations there continue along with talks with Kyrgyz authorities on the U.S. presence.
"I've seen press reports that may or may not reflect the final deliberations in the Kyrgyz government," Deguid said. "We have been in discussion with the government. They have not responded to us with a request to close down our operations there. And therefore, we proceed as normal until we receive that."
The base agreement, officially called a Protocol of Intention, would allow either side to terminate the accord after giving the other six months' notice.
Kyrgyzstan threatened to end the accord in 2005, but it was extended a year later after the United States increased compensation to the Central Asian government.
A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters said the United States has in recent days made an offer to further increase the payment related to the use of the base, but has not heard back from Kyrgyz authorities.
Spokesman Duguid meanwhile said the United States has other options, and there are press reports that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan might be willing to provide similar base access.
The Kyrgyzstan base issue flared as the Obama administration continued a policy review on the Afghanistan conflict that is widely expected to include a big increase in U.S. troop strength there.
At a meeting Thursday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said denial of access to Manas would be regrettable but would not affect U.S. Afghan strategy.