Feb. 6th, 2009. by MSNBC
Russia says it will allow U.S. supplies for Afghanistan to cross its territory
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyzstan will not reverse its decision to close a U.S. air base on its territory that is key to American and NATO operations in Afghanistan, a top Kyrgyz security official said Friday.
"The fate of the air base has been sealed; there is no doubt the bill to revoke the basing agreement will be ratified," Kyrgyzstan's National Security Council chief Adakhan Madumarov told a news conference.
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Moscow will begin allowing U.S. military supplies for Afghanistan to cross its territory.
The statement by Madumarov appeared to dash any U.S. hopes of securing a last-minute reprieve for the Manas air base, which is located just outside the capital of Bishkek.
Parliament is due to consider a government-sponsored bill to close the base next week.
Losing Manas now would pose a serious challenge to President Barack Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more U.S. forces to fight surging Taliban and al-Qaida violence in Afghanistan.
That threat comes as increasing attacks on transportation depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about its ability to protect vital supply routes. About 75 percent of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan.
Russia, while blowing cold on the U.S. military presence in Central Asia, has politically backed the NATO effort in Afghanistan.
Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. administration approached the Kremlin several days ago asking for permission to allow supplies to cross its territory.
He said in remarks broadcast by Vesti 24 television Friday that Russia has agreed. He said Moscow is now waiting for the United States to provide specific details of the shipments and will issue relevant permissions after getting them.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev stunned Washington when he announced the closure of the base earlier this week after securing more than $2 billion in financial aid and credit from Russia.
Russia, irked by the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan which it regards as part of its strategic sphere of interest, has long exerted pressure on the small, landlocked and mountainous Central Asian country to evict the U.S. forces.
NATO says it is concerned about Russia's possible involvement in the Kyrgyz decision. Moscow, which operates its own military base in Kyrgyzstan, has strongly denied any link between its aid package and the move to shut Manas.
Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly complained the United States is paying too little to lease the base.
Asked if Washington had made any additional offers over the base, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov said: "We have not received any proposals." He says Kyrgyzstan wants to shut the base because it disagrees with U.S. methods in Afghanistan.
Chudinov also said that his government has repeatedly raised the issue of the amount of rent paid for the air base. The sums being offered for the base were not economically realistic, he said.
In a visit to the base last month, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the United States currently pumps $150 million annually into Kyrgyzstan's economy, including $63 million in rent for Manas.
The Kyrgyz government needs parliamentary approval to proceed with the closure, but this is seen as a formality as the chamber is controlled by a pro-presidential party. A simple majority of votes is needed.
The Russian aid package, due to be approved by parliament on Friday, includes a $1.7 billion discounted loan to help Kyrgyzstan build a hydroelectric power plant.
A Western diplomatic source told The Associated Press on Thursday the United States was close to a deal with Kyrgyzstan's neighbor Uzbekistan that would allow Washington to open a new supply route for its troops in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyz officials have not specified when the closure might take place, but the agreement under which the base was established in 2001 specifies that the United States must be given 180 days' notice.
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