Kyrgyz President Calls Presence of US Military Base “Dangerous”

Posted December 29th, 2011 at 6:05 am (UTC-5)
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Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev says it has become too dangerous to maintain a U.S. military base near his country's civilian airport.

Mr. Atambayev said Thursday that he told visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake that the annual lease payment of $150 million was not worth the risks involved with keeping an airfield at a civilian airport.

The Kyrgyz leader told reporters in Bishkek the United States must leave the airport by 2014 when the lease expires or work with Russia to set up a separate center for civilian airport operations.

The United States has used the base, which is adjacent to the Manas civilian airport, as a key supply transit center for the war in Afghanistan.

But last month, Mr. Atambayev cited the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and worsening relations with Iran, saying he did not want to risk one of those countries making a retaliatory strike on the base.

President Atambayev has said Kyrgyzstan would honor the current U.S. lease but has no intention of extending it.

The closure will be good news for Russia, which also has a base in Kyrgyzstan, and views the former Soviet republic as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

President Atambayev on Thursday rejected accusations that Russia has influenced his decision to end U.S. military operations at the civilian airport.