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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Kyrgyzstan will not allow U.S. to use airbase against Iran - PM

RIA Novosti

24/05/2007 15:04 BISHKEK, May 24 (RIA Novosti) - Kyrgyzstan will not allow the U.S. to use an airbase on the republic's territory to wage war on Iran or Iraq, the prime minister said Thursday.

Located south of Bishkek, the country's capital, Manas airbase is the only U.S. base in post-Soviet Central Asia since Uzbekistan evicted American troops from its territory in 2005. Recent media reports hinted at the possibility of the U.S. using the base in the Central Asian state to deliver air strikes against Iran.

"We will on no account allow the airbase in Manas to be used to launch strikes on Iran or Iraq. Everything must be within the framework of the agreement," Almaz Atambayev told journalists.

At the same time, Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan cannot break the agreement with the U.S. on the deployment of the international antiterrorism coalition's airbase at the airport. "That is a very complicated agreement, and it is practically impossible to break," he said.

The United States established a military presence in the region in 2001 using the airbase in Kyrgyzstan as a spearhead for operations in Afghanistan, which U.S.-led coalition forces invaded to topple Taliban rulers who had direct links with the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

The U.S. Ganci airbase, or Manas, located 30 kilometers (17 miles) east of the Kyrgyz capital, accommodates 1,000 U.S. troops along with nine refueling and cargo planes supplying antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary defense and security committee decided to raise the issue of the airbase agreement denunciation.

Calls on the Kyrgyz government to consider closing the airbase were first raised last year following a string of incidents there involving U.S. troops, including the killing of a Kyrgyz national and a plane's collision with a U.S. tanker.

But a former U.S. deputy assistant state secretary, who is Bishkek, said cooperation between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan could deteriorate if the latter closes the U.S. base, adding that the situation with radicalism and the drug threat could also worsen in the Central Asian region.

Russia has established its own military base in Kyrgyzstan as a counterweight to the U.S. airbase at Manas.

The Russian base in Kant, about 20 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital, currently deploys about 500 troops, 20 combat and transport planes and helicopters, as well as L-39 trainers.

In light of the proposed deployment of a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe and the continuing expansion of NATO, Moscow has become increasingly concerned by the U.S. and NATO military presence close to its borders in the Central Asian region, which has historically been in Russia's sphere of influence.

The Kremlin has applied considerable pressure on Kyrgyzstan to demand that the U.S. withdraw its base after the completion of its mission in Afghanistan.

But the poor nation of five million people needs strong U.S. support and the U.S. military base, which spends $150 million annually in rental fees under a new agreement, has generated jobs and is a strong contributor to the Kyrgyz economy.

On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz government reaffirmed its commitment to allow the U.S. to maintain its base at Manas airport. "The presence of a U.S. airbase in Kyrgyzstan meets the national interests of the republic," a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said after a closed government meeting.

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