News / Asia

US Envoy Heads to Kyrgyzstan to Meet Interim Leaders

A senior U.S. diplomat is en route to Kyrgyzstan for the first high-level direct dialogue between the United States and the interim government that assumed power there last week.  The State Department says it is "very good news" that the new administration will uphold an agreement allowing the United States to use an airbase there for Afghanistan flights.  

The decision to send Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake to Bishkek follows a weekend telephone conversation between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the head of Kyrgyzstan's interim government, Rosa Otunbayeva.

The State Department says Ms. Otunbayeva told Clinton that the new administration will abide by an agreement allowing the United States to use the Manas airbase near Bishkek as a transit hub for military flights to and from Afghanistan.

Speaking with reporters, Blake said that in meetings on Wednesday and Thursday with the interim leaders he will offer humanitarian aid and other support, and seek details of announced elections and a democratic transition in six months.

Blake said that while the new authorities in Bishkek have a "full plate" of other matters, he expects the Manas base arrangement - which the United States had been talking with the previous government about extending - will come up.

"Ambassador [Richard] Holbrooke was in Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek not too long ago and said the government at that time had agreed to continue those arrangements, and we welcome that, of course," said Robert Blake. "And it's very good news that Ms. Otunbayeva said that they will continue to abide by those agreements.  Of course, the United States is prepared to talk at any time with her and the members of the provisional government about these arrangements."

Blake said he would have no contact in Kyrgyzstan with ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev or his representatives.

Mr. Bakiyev, who fled Bishkek last week after violent unrest in which scores of protestors were killed by security forces, has refused to surrender.

Blake said he understands there are differences among members of the interim government about whether Mr. Bakiyev should be arrested or allowed to leave for foreign exile.

He said the United States takes no position on that issue, which he said should be "managed" by the Kyrgyz people in accordance with their constitution.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley, meanwhile, said the United States does not consider last week's transfer of power in Bishkek a coup and that the issue of recognition of the Kyrgyz government was never at issue.

"There is a transitional administration that has taken over operation of government ministries," said  P.J. Crowley. "We recognize that reality.  It's not for us to say that today the leader of Kyrgyzstan is Otunbayeva versus Bakiyev.  What we recognize is that there's a process underway that within six months' time will produce a new government, one that we hope will be more democratic."

Assistant Secretary Blake said Maksim Bakiyev, son of the president, arrived in the United States last week as head of a Kyrgyz delegation for talks with State Department officials that were cancelled.

Blake said the younger Bakiyev has since left the country and that he had no contact with U.S. officials.

The senior official avoided direct comment on a Washington Post newspaper report that last week's Kyrgyz unrest had been partly fomented by Russian media reports.

He said only that President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had a very good conversation on Kyrgyzstan last week in Prague and that they agreed on the importance of restoring law and order there.   

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