Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Kyrgyz base move 'not political'

US air base in Kyrgyzstan
The base played a vital role in supplying Nato in Afghanistan

Kyrgyzstan ordered the closure of a US military base solely because the US refused to pay an adequate rent for it, the Kyrgyz president has said.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev said his repeated complaints to Washington about the rental level had gone unheeded.

There had been speculation that the closure of the Manas base had been demanded by Moscow, in return for more than $2bn (1.4bn) in aid.

The base has served as a vital supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan.

President Bakiyev's announcement of the base's closure last week surprised Washington, observers said.

It sparked immediate suspicions that the base's closure was a condition of Russia's huge aid pledge to the impoverished Central Asian country, but Mr Bakiyev insisted this was not the case.

"For the past three years I have said clearly in meetings with the US administration: 'Times have changed and prices are different. We need to re-examine the terms of the agreement on the base,'" he said, according to AFP news agency.

"But our requests were always ignored," he said, speaking at a news conference.

Risky strategy

The US, which was said to pay $17m annually to rent the base, could have retained it if it had increased this to $150m, Mr Bakiyev said.

He insisted diplomatic relations with the US would not be spoiled and that "mutual understanding on political issues" would continue.

The base's closure is not yet set in stone, however. The Kyrgyz parliament still needs to pass the bill annulling its arrangement with the US - and the vote has been delayed until March, reports the BBC's Central Asian correspondent Rayhan Demytrie.

Though MPs deny this, many analysts believe the Kyrgyz government is simply playing for time to allow the Americans to come up with more money for the lease of the site, she says - a risky strategy as Russia has not yet ratified the aid package.

Russian overture

Meanwhile, Russia has suggested it may be open to allowing the US and Nato to transport weaponry across its territory to Afghanistan if there is an improvement in the broader relationship between Moscow and the West.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed US Vice-President Joe Biden's offer to "press the reset button" in bilateral relations.

The transit of non-military equipment to Afghanistan had already been granted, he pointed out, and "additional steps are also possible".

Russia's ties with Nato have been chilly since Russia's war with Georgia in mid-2008.

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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