Page last updated at 18:20 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Kyrgyz U-turn on US base mooted

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev: 'The door is not closed'

Kyrgyzstan's president has told the BBC "the doors are not closed" concerning talks over the US airbase which is due to close.

The Manas base is critical to US and Nato operations in Afghanistan.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev said negotiations with Washington would have to take a different format, and cover new conditions of use.

His latest remarks, the first since announcing the closure last month, have yet to draw an American response.

President Bakiyev said the old agreement on the use of the base was no longer valid but Kyrgyzstan was open to negotiation.

"We are ready for any new proposals from the US government aimed at stabilising the situation in Afghanistan."

Our partners - be it the United States or Russia - should listen to what we have to say
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev

The US has already said that it would look at what it could offer to keep the base open - but was not prepared to pay any price.

Kyrgyz MPs have already passed a bill on the closure, and the US is actively exploring alternative supply routes.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of closing the strategic US air base.

President Bakiyev has suggested that peace talks be held in Kyrgystan under the auspices of the United Nations between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Taliban leaders.

"We should be respected more," he said in his BBC interview. "Our partners - be it the United States or Russia - should listen to what we have to say."

"We decided to close the base because our proposals have been ignored for years and I don't consider such relations as being equal."

Mr Bakiyev said at the time of the announcement that the base would be closed because Washington had refused to pay more rent for it.

Militant threat

Thousands of US soldiers pass through the Manas base every month on their way in and out of Afghanistan.

It is also home to the large tanker aircraft that are used for airborne refuelling of fighter planes on combat missions, and it serves as a key supply hub.

Two hours' flight time from Kabul
15,000 US soldiers pass through every month on their way in and out of Afghanistan
Houses 1,000 US soldiers alongside 100 Spanish and French troops
Home of large tanker aircraft used for in-air refuelling of fighter planes
3,294 refuelling missions flown in 2008 providing 11,419 aircraft with fuel over the skies of Afghanistan
For the US, the decision comes at a critical moment, as the new administration of President Barack Obama plans a sharp rise in the number of its troops in Afghanistan.

With supply lines to Afghanistan via Pakistan increasingly threatened by militant attacks, Washington has intensified talks with other countries in the region.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has said the US will be allowed to transport non-military supplies through his country, which has rail links with Afghanistan.

The US has also reached similar deals with Russia and Kazakhstan.

Washington used to have an air base in Uzbekistan that served troops operating in Afghanistan.

But Uzbek authorities closed it in 2005 after criticism from the US and EU over a crackdown on a mass protest in the town of Andijan.

Map showing existing/possible supply routes
1. Manas airbase: the only US base in Central Asia, a vital transit point for Nato and US operations. Kyrgyz government wants it closed.
2. Karshi-Khanabad airbase: US forces were ordered out in 2005. Uzbekistan may agree to allow it to be used for non-military transports.
3. Bridge over Panj river: part-funded by the US, it was completed in 2007. May serve as another supply route into Afghanistan.
4. Khyber Pass: most supplies to US and Nato troops come through Pakistan. Increasing number of attacks in the area mean the US army is looking for back-up routes.

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