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U.S. to Remain at Kyrgyz Air Base

The Central Asian nation's president signs an open-ended deal during a visit by Rice.

October 12, 2005|From Associated Press

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday reassured Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that U.S. forces could remain at an air base on its territory that she called a front line in the war on terrorism.

The Manas air base near the Kyrgyz capital city was Rice's first stop on a trip to the region. The base supplies fuel and other goods to U.S.-led troops fighting the 4-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Improving U.S. relations with Kyrgyzstan are based on shared principles of political freedom, Rice told some of the approximately 1,000 U.S., French and Spanish forces stationed at the base.

Rice was also trying to firm up U.S. rights to use the base, for which the United States pays up to $50 million a year.

Although President Kurmanbek Bakiyev previously made similar promises about the U.S. future at the base, U.S. officials said there had been signs of wavering behind the scenes and a move to renegotiate the terms of any long-range U.S. presence.

This time, Rice and Bakiyev signed a brief statement promising open-ended U.S. use of the Manas air base for Afghan operations as well as a U.S. inquiry into whether past payments for use of the facility might have fallen into corrupt hands.

Rice also encouraged further democratic progress for Kyrgyzstan's fledgling reformist government.

"We know the aspiration for democracy and for freedom and for liberty is indeed a universal one, and the United States will stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan as they continue developing a stable and free democracy," Rice told local leaders.

Rice is traveling to Afghanistan today and will also visit Pakistan, where a quake Saturday killed thousands of people.

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