A U.S. government spokesman said Tuesday that the United States is in talks with Kyrgyzstan for the continued use of an air base to supply U.S. and NATO efforts in neighboring Afghanistan. The comments came as the Kyrgyz President said in Moscow, he will expel U.S. forces from the base because the United States refused to negotiate higher payments for using it.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan is "hugely important" to the U.S. military and that the United States hopes to continue using the facility.
"This is an agreement between two governments, and the terms of that agreement are always subject to negotiation," he said. "And that is where we stand at this point. But we are hopeful that we can continue our good relationship with the Kyrgyz government and can continue to use Manas in support of our operations in Afghanistan."
But in comments made at about the same time in Moscow, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said his government has decided to end U.S. use of the base and that the decision will be formally announced in the next couple of days.
The Kyrgyz president spoke shortly after Russia agreed to provide his country with aid that news reports put at about $2 billion.
The Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, indicated that talks on U.S. payments to Kyrgyzstan for use of the air base are continuing.
"Whether or not we pay more money is certainly a subject of discussion," he said. "But that shouldn't be a surprise. In any negotiation, money is often at issue, and hopefully we'll come to an agreement and can continue the use of the air base."
Morrell also disputed a reporter's suggestion that Russia is trying to reduce U.S. influence in the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia.
"I have seen nothing to suggest, other than press reports, that the Russians are attempting to undermine our use of that facility," he said.
The issue of U.S. use of the Manas Air Base comes as President Obama is in the final stages of considering a request from the American commander in Afghanistan to nearly double the U.S. troop presence to about 60,000. That increase would put pressure on U.S. supply lines, many of which run through the Manas base.
Adding to the problems have been attacks along the main land route into Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan. An attack on Tuesday damaged a key bridge on the Pakistan side of the border, closing that route, but it was not immediately clear how long it would take to repair the bridge or reroute the traffic.
U.S. officials have said the Khyber Pass route and the air base in Kyrgyzstan are important links in the American supply chain. But they have also said they have several alternatives, including longer-range flights. U.S. officials also say they have been talking to other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia about establishing a northern land supply route from Europe to Afghanistan.