US ready to pay more for Kyrgyz base within limits - US Defense Secretary
The United States is ready to pay more but not beyond a "reasonable" amount to use an air base in Kyrgyzstan to supply US forces in Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
"We have not resigned ourselves to this being the last word," Gates said after the Kyrgyz parliament voted Thursday to close the Manas air base.
"We're going to continue to work the problem with the Kyrgyz" government, the defense chief said during a visit to Poland for a NATO defense ministers meeting.
"I think we are prepared to look at the fees and see if there is a justification for a somewhat larger payment but we're not going to be ridiculous about it," he said.
"We're prepared to do something that we think is reasonable."
The United States pays 17.4 million dollars a year to use the strategic air base, which serves as a vital hub for moving troops and supplies in and out of Afghanistan, AFP reported.
The move by Kyrgyzstan complicates the US mission in Afghanistan just two days after President Barack Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 additional troops there and follows a series of insurgent attacks on vital supply lines through Pakistan.
Kyrgyzstan's decision came shortly after Russia offered major financial aid, but Kyrgyz officials have insisted the two issues are not related.
The US government was holding "discussions" with the Kyrgyz government and had yet to receive official notification of a decision to close Manas, a Pentagon spokesman said earlier in Washington.
"Manas is important but it's not irreplaceable," Gates said.
"We have looked at alternatives, and have been talking to a number of different countries," he said on the sidelines of the NATO meeting.
Gates said that contingency plans for other supply routes reflected the increased demands that will come from the planned deployment of US troop reinforcements to Afghanistan.
"The thinking and the planning that has been done in terms of an alternative network takes into account the increase of troop levels and the requirements that they will impose," he added.
After the parliamentary vote in Kyrgyzstan, the legislation was due to be signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The United States would then be formally notified and given six months to remove its base, said ruling Ak Zhol party lawmaker Zayinidin Kurmanov in Bishkek.
The US base, home to about 1,000 troops, including small French and Spanish contingents, was set up to support coalition forces fighting to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
About 15,000 people and 500 tonnes of cargo move in and out of the Manas air base every month supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan and the Afghan army.
Since Bishkek's announcement, both Russia and Tajikistan have offered their territory to transit non-lethal supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan.
General David Petraeus, head of Central Command, which oversees the region, travelled to Uzbekistan on Tuesday to meet President Islam Karimov and discuss regional security. The visit was widely interpreted as a sign that the United States was seeking to use the country as a transit route for Afghanistan.
Tashkent closed a US air base that helped serve troops stationed in Afghanistan in 2005, following EU and US criticism over the Uzbek government's handling of an armed uprising in the city of Andijan.