The top U.S. military officer has welcomed progress toward reversing the Kyrgyz government decision to end U.S. use of a key base for supplying the allied mission in Afghanistan.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said he discussed that and other controversial issues during meetings in Moscow Friday with senior Russian defense officials.
Admiral Mullen welcomed the Kyrgyz parliament's approval of a new lease for the base at Manas, reversing an order to leave issued by the Kyrgyz parliament and government earlier this year. Reports from Kyrgyzstan said the rent will be $60 million a year, more than triple the previous rent, and that there will be restrictions on exactly how the base can be used. But Admiral Mullen said the new accord will enable the United States to continue supplying the allied effort in Afghanistan, which is at a critical stage.
"It will do what's necessary. It's a critical base. There were other options, but this option is one that because it is in place and because physically where it is, it's a very viable option for us, and so I'm very pleased with what I see as a lot of progress to creating the change which will allow us to stay there," he said.
Admiral Mullen said during Friday's meeting, his Russian counterpart General Nikolai Makarov welcomed the development, as Russia's President Dmitriy Medvedev did on Thursday, even though Russia had opposed U.S. use of the Kyrgyz base in the past. The admiral said General Makarov also indicated Russia wants to keep the land supply route through its territory open, which is used for non-lethal items.
Admiral Mullen had wide-ranging defense talks with General Makarov and other top Russian officials. He said there was agreement on many issues, including the need to stabilize Afghanistan. But the admiral said the two sides disagreed on other issues, including the U.S. plan to build missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, known as the 'third site.'
"One of the most difficult issues is the missile defense issue, the third site, and we certainly didn't solve that. We recognize that that's being handled at the political level, and particularly in the United States where we're undergoing a missile defense review that won't be completed until later this year," he said.
The admiral said General Makarov repeated President Medvedev's position that there will be no agreement to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty when it expires in December unless President Barack Obama abandons the Bush administration's plan to build the European missile defense system. The United States says the system is designed to defend against Iran's growing missile capability, and would not be a threat to Russia.
Admiral Mullen also confirmed that early next month, during the U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow, he and General Makarov will sign an agreement to expand U.S.-Russian military cooperation.
"He and I are very committed to making this work plan actionable, with concrete steps, so that we can actually turn the discussions into meaningful, substantive output that strengthens the relationship," said the admiral.
This will be another step toward normalizing U.S.-Russian military relations following a freeze caused by Russia's invasion of Georgia last year. Admiral Mullen said all the Russian officials he met with on Friday were interested in doing that.
"They know the significant upside of having the United States and Russia aligned, and I think, by implication, they understand the downside in a pretty dangerous world," Mullen added.
Admiral Mullen said Russian officials particularly want to work with the United States to fight the drug trade and the global terrorist threat, both of which are related to the effort to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.