U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday's vote by the Kyrgyz parliament to terminate the U.S. lease on a key air base used for supplying the Afghanistan war is not the last word on the subject, and the United States will continue to try to convince the Kyrgyz government to change its plan. Gates spoke in Krakow, Poland, where he is attending a NATO defense ministers' meeting.
The Kyrgyz parliament's vote on the expulsion of U.S. forces was decisive. But termination of the lease involves six months' notice, which has not yet been officially delivered to U.S. officials. And Secretary Gates said the United States plans to use that time to try to change minds in Bishkek.
"We are going to continue to work the problem with the Kyrgyz. We have not resigned ourselves to this being the last word. So I haven't written this off yet. And my hope is that we can 'walk this back' with the Kyrgyz and continue the arrangement," he said.
The Kyrgyz base at Manas has taken on added importance as the United States prepares to increase its troop presence in Afghanistan by 45 percent during the next few months. Secretary Gates said U.S. officials are talking to several countries about alternative transport routes, including Russia. The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, General David Petraeus, was in Uzbekistan this week working on the issue. The Uzbek government expelled U.S. forces from an air base there in 2006.
But Secretary Gates repeated his offer to pay more to continue using the base in Kyrgyzstan.
"I think we are prepared to look at the fees and see if there is justification for a somewhat larger payment, but we're not going to be ridiculous about it. It is an important base, but it's not so important that we're going to waste taxpayer dollars paying something that's exorbitant," he said.
The United States currently pays $17 million a year for use of the Kyrgyz base, in addition to $150 million in aid. The Kyrgyz president announced his intention to close the U.S. operation when he was in Moscow earlier this month, right after Russia signed a $2 billion aid deal.