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5 Mar, 2009 19:05

Kyrgyzstan bazaar open for US bargain?

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the ‘doors are open’ for dialogue with the US. He was talking to BBC on the closure of the American military base Manas.

In the interview Bakiyev explained Kyrgyzstan’s reasons for shutting down what is a crucial base for NATO. They range from the purely economical to the legal immunity of personnel at the base to environmental drawbacks, which have led to ‘the negative attitude of the Kyrgyzstan population.’

He said the US ignored Bishkek’s concerns for years, which resulted in the decision to close the base. In February after overwhelming support of the parliament, Bakiyev signed the bill into law.

The president said there were no political disagreements with Washington and that Kyrgyzstan was open to dialogue.

“At the moment we’re not holding talks. But I’d like to point out that the door is still open and we’re still ready to consider all the options the US government can offer. Talks about a new format, new deal, new terms – yes, they are possible, but the old deal is at an end,” Bakiyev said.

Experts say the reason behind the Kyrgyz willingness to continue co-operation lies in the warming relations between Russia and the US.

“Through Bakiyev Moscow sent a signal to the US that it might help the Americans to continue operating the Manas base, but this should be with Russian consent,” believes political analyst Aleksandr Pikaev.

He adds money also matters:

“Kyrgyzstan was disappointed that Americans paid just US$ 17 million a year – it was peanuts even for Kyrgyzstan. But now Kyrgyzstan is receiving a big credit from Russia, about US$ 2 billion. I would be very surprised if the Americans could pay similar money,” Pikaev says.

What’s on the table?

Some media including BBC, which interviewed President Bakiev, took his words as a hint he was willing to negotiate on the closure of the Manas air base, especially since the discussion had a focus on the military installation.

However, the Kyrgyz leader spoke around the subject and didn’t specify exactly what he expected Washington to lay on the table. If the ‘new format’ meant that ‘no people were immune to Kyrgyz prosecution’ and ‘no aircraft fuel spilled on Kyrgyz territory’, the prospects for keeping Manas or probably opening a new one in a different location is doubtful.

Presidential spokesman Almas Turdumamatov referred to the interview with BBC to stress that the base was closed for good.

Bishkek peace initiative

On his part Bakiyev suggested hosting talks under UN aegis between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban leaders. He added that the military mission had proved ineffective and that economic measures were needed.

“We need to use all measures, not just purely military, but all available measures to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan,” he said.

Russian deal denied

Bakiyev strongly denied allegations that Kyrgyzstan waved goodbye to the US base in exchange for a lucrative loan from Moscow.

“Kyrgyzstan is a sovereign state. We took the decision and it has nothing to do with Russia,” the president said.

According to the Kyrgyz leader the beneficial terms of the loan was adequate for a deal between ‘allied nations’. He added that the fact that the announcement of Manas base closure came during his visit to Moscow was coincidental.

Supplementary deals in balance

Kyrgyz parliament approved the bill on the Manas base closure in February. But there are a number of auxiliary agreements with separate members of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, which have not yet been rescinded by Kyrgyzstan. A total of 11 documents are now being reviewed by parliamentary and foreign ministry committees.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Bakyt Beshimov claimed on Wednesday that the legislatures may refuse to rescind the agreements, reports Interfax news agency. However, the government representative in the parliament, Myrza Kaparov, and several other politicians insist the country is determined to close Manas and revoke all agreements connected with it.

On Thursday a parliamentary committee approved the cancellation of the supplementary agreements. The issue is expected to be discussed by the parliament on Friday.

Meanwhile the base is functioning as usual, its press service reports. According to the agreement, it has to be closed in August, within 180 days of the official notification being sent by the Kyrgyz side in February.