Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Top US commander in Uzbek talks

General David Petraeus, pictured on 14 February 2009
Gen Petraeus is seeking new routes for supplies into Afghanistan

The US commander for the Middle East and Central Asia, General David Petraeus, is in Uzbekistan for talks with leaders.

US officials said Gen Petraeus would meet President Islam Karimov to discuss key regional security issues.

His visit comes weeks after Kyrgyzstan unexpectedly announced the closure of the key US military base in the region.

The US is seeking new supply routes into Afghanistan, with which Uzbekistan has rail links.

Washington has already reached deals with Russia and Kazakhstan to send non-military cargo to Afghanistan using their rail networks, but the supplies would have to go through Uzbekistan.

"General Petraeus is here to listen to Uzbekistan's perspective on key regional security issues and the best approaches to addressing these challenges, particularly Afghanistan," a spokeswoman from the US embassy in Tashkent said.

The US 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 crack-down on a mass protest in the town of Andijan.

The Kyrgyz government, meanwhile, says it will hold a final vote on the closure of the Manas base in parliament later this week.

If approved, the US would have 180 days to leave the base.

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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