Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US welcomes Kyrgyzstan decision to keep base deal

OUT WITH THE OLDThe US said there were no plans to meet with former Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, but fell short of recognizing the interim government

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US on Monday welcomed statements from the interim Kyrgyz government that it would abide by existing agreements covering a US air base in the country.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said the assurances, given by interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday, would allow the two countries to discuss arrangements on the base, which is an important hub for troop transfers and other support for US operations in Afghanistan.

“It is very good news that Miss Otunbayeva said that they will continue to abide by those agreements and of course the United States is prepared to talk at any time with her and members of the provisional government about these arrangements,” Blake told a news briefing.

Blake spoke before departing for Kyrgyzstan for meetings with Otunbayeva and others. He will be the highest US diplomat to travel there since she claimed power after a crackdown on opposition protesters led to violence that killed at least 81 people.

Blake said the US was not formally recognizing the provisional government, but did not consider it to have taken power in a coup, and offered strong suggestions of support.

“My main goal will be to hear from the Kyrgyz administration about their assessment of the law and order situation, the steps that they plan to take during their six-month interim administration to organize democratic elections and a return to democracy, and how we might be able to help them to restore democracy and economic growth,” Blake said.

He said many victims in last week’s violence were killed by supporters of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled the capital during the upheaval on Wednesday last week.

Blake said there were no plans to meet with Bakiyev, who has been seeking to muster support in the southern part of country, but added that the dispute over power must be handled without violating the Constitution.

Blake would not comment on speculation that Russia, which has bristled at the US military presence in Kyrgyzstan, may have had a hand in driving Bakiyev from power.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quick to call Otunbayeva last week, essentially recognizing her government, and Russian officials harshly criticized Bakiyev.

After receiving a Russian pledge of more than US$2 billion in assistance, Bakiyev last year said Kyrgyzstan would evict US forces from the base. He later reversed course and agreed to keep the base open at a higher price.

After last week’s upheaval, members of Otunbayeva’s government had suggested the base lease would be shortened.

Blake said the US would not push hard now for further commitments on the base.

“They’ve got a lot of other things on their plate that they have to sort out ... so when they’re prepared to talk about this ... we will be glad to have those conversations,” he said.

The expiration of the agreement allowing the US to use the base was not immediately clear, but Kyrgyzstan would have to give six months notice if it wants to evict US forces.

The US Embassy said the transit of troops to and from Afghanistan, halted because of the upheaval, had resumed, but the Pentagon said on Monday that some inbound passenger flights were being sent elsewhere. Past decisions to restrict such flights have been attributed to security concerns.

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