Kyrgyzstan has significantly reduced the amount of money it is demanding the Pentagon pay in rent for the use of Manas air base, a crucial military facility for US operations in Afghanistan.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan previously threatened to evict the US from Manas if the Pentagon did not agree by on Thursday to raise its annual rent payments from the current $2.7m to $200m.
A source familiar with ongoing discussions in Bishkek between US and Kyrgyz officials said the Kyrgyz government had signalled that it might be willing to accept as little as $15m if the rent was coupled with an aid and investment package. But the source said the final package would be far less than the $200m that Mr Bakiyev had demanded.
US officials were expected to leave Bishkek on Friday after several days of negotiations, but a final agreement may require another round of negotiations.
The US used Manas as an important refuelling and transit base from which to launch operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. While the tempo of US operations in Afghanistan has decreased since then, the base has become more important after US forces were evicted from Uzbekistan another Central Asian base, last year.
Mr Bakiyev’s press service issued a conciliatory statement on Thursday acknowledging the vital role being played by US coalition forces based at Manas in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.
“The unsettled situation in Afghanistan…demonstrates how essential it is to strengthen co-operation with the international community in the struggle against terrorism - the real evil of the twenty first century,” the statement said.
Mr Bakiyev’s office said negotiations of new terms for Manas were “actively moving forward”, adding that both sides would “strive to find a mutually advantageous agreement within a short period”. The US embassy in Bishkek declined all comment.
Edil Baisalov, president of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, an NGO, said: “It looks as if the Americans are here to stay”. Mr Bakiyev’s decision to significantly back away from his previous demands – described as “unrealistic” by Kyrgyz parliamentarians – may spark tough questions of the Kyrgyz president at the June 15 meeting of the Shanghai Organisation for Co-operation, a regional security grouping that includes China and Russia.
The organisation last year called for the withdrawal of the US military from Central Asia. Uzbekistan ordered closure of a base at Khanabad last year after Washington criticised the violent suppression of an armed uprising in Andizhan, leaving Manas as the only Central Asian base available to the US at present.
Mr Baisalov said that Russian demands for the US to leave Central Asia were largely designed to allay public discontent about Moscow’s shrinking control over its former empire. “It is in everyone’s interest that the US helps end terrorism in Afghanistan,” he said.
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