Amid growing concerns over the spread of anthrax, the United States has signed an agreement with Uzbekistan to remove the deadly bacteria from an island in the heart of central Asia, which had been a major bio-weapons test site during the Cold War.

The agreement will allow an agency within the Pentagon to clear anthrax from a former Soviet germ warfare site located on an island in the Aral sea, where tons of anthrax spores are believed to have been buried during the 1980s.

The island, near the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, had been a major bio-weapons test site for the Soviet Union during the cold war.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher says the agreement is also intended to improve security at research sites where toxic substances are stored. He explained: "We have been cooperating with the Uzbek government since 1997 on a host of projects relating to the dismantling of the former Soviet Union's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons legacy."

Uzbekistan's deputy foreign minister says this agreement will help ensure that still deadly anthrax spores on the island do not fall into the hands of terrorists. The agreement is also another sign of the increasing cooperation between both countries in the war against terrorism.

The Uzbek government is already allowing American military personnel involved in search and rescue operations in neighboring Afghanistan to be based on its territory. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an agreement that opened the door for the possibility that those same troops could also be used for combat operations.