BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – The president of Kyrgyzstan says keeping the U.S. air base in his country beyond June 2014 depends on how developments in Afghanistan affect regional stability as well as increases in rental payments.
Almazbek Atambayev told public broadcasters on Wednesday that the fate of Manas Transit Center would be decided in the former Soviet Central Asian nation's best interests.
All U.S. troops moving in and out of nearby Afghanistan travel through Manas. Large numbers of troops are set to come home in 2014 as the war winds down.
Atambayev said U.S. assumptions that the base would remain in place simply in exchange for higher rent were unfounded. The United States pays $60 million annually for the base.
Atambayev's remarks appear to signal a slight shift from his earlier position that the base deal would effectively be terminated and that aircraft transit would take place through a civilian airport.
The president has said the existence of the base leaves his country vulnerable to retaliatory strikes over U.S. military action in the region.
He also hinted, however, that decisions on the base may ultimately lie with Kyrgyzstan's close military ally, Russia, which has objected to U.S. presence in what it deems its own strategic backyard.
"We need to consider the opinions of our strategic partners," Atambayev said, without naming any nations.
Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance comprised of seven former Soviet states.
Russia controls the Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan, which lies a short distance from Manas, under the auspices of the CSTO agreement.