Kyrgyzstan says U.S. air base decision is final

Kyrgyzstan Materials 6 February 2009 10:21 (UTC +04:00)

Kyrgyzstan said on Friday its decision to shut a U.S. air base in the Central Asian country was final, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, the United States said it was still in talks with Kyrgyzstan about retaining the Manas air base, an important staging post for U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.

"The decision has been made," said Kyrgyz government spokesman Aibek Sultangaziyev. "The U.S. embassy and the (Kyrgyz) Foreign Ministry are exchanging opinions on this, but there are no discussions on keeping the base."

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the base earlier this week after securing financial aid from Russia, Kyrgyzstan's former Soviet master and traditional ally.

Irked by the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, which it regards as part of its strategic sphere of interest, Russia has been exerting pressure on Bakiyev for years to close Manas down.

Kyrgyzstan's move has set a tough challenge for new U.S. President Barack Obama, who plans to send additional troops to boost NATO efforts to defeat Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

NATO says it is concerned about Russia's possible involvement in the decision by the impoverished Muslim country.

Moscow, which operates its own military base in Kyrgyzstan, has strongly denied any link between its $2 billion aid package and Kyrgyzstan's decision to shut Manas.

Kyrgyzstan's move comes as Washington seeks to reinforce supply routes to Afghanistan that bypass Pakistan, where convoys face security risks.

The Kyrgyz government needs parliamentary approval to proceed with the closure of the base, but this is seen as a formality as the chamber is controlled by a pro-presidential party. A simple majority of votes is needed.

Officials have said parliament will vote next week.