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US Cites Progress on Extending Use of Kyrgyz Base

The U.S. Defense Department says it is moving toward agreement with Kyrgyzstan for the continuing use of an air base that is a key link in the American system for supplying troops and material to Afghanistan. In February, Kyrgyzstan formally gave the United States six months to vacate the facility.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says U.S. officials have been negotiating with Kyrgyzstan, hoping to convince officials there to reverse their decision, and he says there have been some positive developments.

"We have been engaged in conversations with them about extending our use of that facility. And I think we see reason for hope there that that can be worked out," he said.

Morrell declined to provide details, or to say what enticements the United States might be offering. When Kyrgyzstan formally gave the United States the order to vacate the Manas base, Kyrgyz officials indicated the issue was the amount of money paid to use the facility. But the decision also came as Russia offered Kyrgyzstan significant additional aid.

Then, in late March, after a meeting in Moscow, the Kyrgyz foreign minister said his government was not reconsidering its decision, in spite of a U.S. request to do so. And just last week, Russia announced plans to increase the number of aircraft it keeps at another base in Kyrgyzstan, just 30 kilometers from the base U.S. forces use.

In the past, the Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell has called the Manas base "hugely important" to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, but he has also said, and repeated on Tuesday, that the United States has arranged other routes for non-lethal supplies and could replace the Manas facility if it needs to.

"Should it become necessary to find other bases to work out of and trans-load our personnel into Afghanistan, I think we've got suitable alternatives within the region," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the amount of money paid and other conditions are open to negotiation, and he hopes U.S. forces can continue to use the Kyrgyz base. But the secretary has also said that he would not agree to pay an exorbitant amount for the privilege.