US can maintain Kyrgyz air base, Clinton says

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Kyrgyzstan's new administration and Russia have given Washington assurances that the United States will be able to continue using a crucial air base for the war effort in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

"We have been given assurances by the new leadership in Kyrgyzstan that the United States will retain access to the Manas air base," Clinton told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Estonia.

The Manas base is a key refueling point for war jets flying over Afghanistan and a major hub for combat troop movement.

On Saturday a top official in Kyrgyzstan's new interim government told The Associated Press that the United States' presence on the base is "not justified" — the first sign of significant divisions in the Central Asian country's new administration over the facility.

Clinton said, however, she saw "no problem" with the continued use of the base.

She said Washington had discussed the issue with Russia, which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan and historically has been suspicious of U.S. military presence in the region.

Moscow has allowed the Pentagon to transport materials and troops destined for Afghanistan across Russian airspace, Clinton noted.

"The immediate destination for a lot of this material is the Manas air base," Clinton said. "So it would not make sense if they (the Russians) would give us the go-ahead to cross their territory and not support the continued use of the Manas air base."

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbayeva has criticized the United States in the past for supporting the deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, but said her government would extend the lease on the air base for another year after the current one expires in July.