Kyrgyzstan, U.S. to talk about air base - minister - 1

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Talks on the future of a United States air base in Kyrgyzstan will continue in the next few days, Kyrgyzstan's defense minister said Tuesday.

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BISHKEK, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - Talks on the future of a United States air base in Kyrgyzstan will continue in the next few days, Kyrgyzstan's defense minister said Tuesday.

Ismail Isakov did not name a concrete date, but added that American experts had been discussing Kyrgyzstan's proposals in Washington and would return to the Central Asian country to continue talks.

About 1,000 U.S. servicemen are stationed at the Manas airbase near the capital, Bishkek, that was set up in December 2001 to support U.S.-led operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

Isakov said that a stumbling block in the talks between the two countries remained the level of rent the U.S. pays for the air base.

"We have expressed our opinion, and they have expressed their opinion, and the issue will be discussed further," Isakov said.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said in May that little progress had been made toward a new deal since he suggested raising the rent nine months ago, and that the amount currently paid by the U.S. was "purely symbolic."

He said the rent, currently about $2 million per year, should be increased roughly 100-fold.

"Kyrgyzstan reserves the right to consider terminating the bilateral agreement of December 4, 2001, should any circumstances prevent completion of the negotiating process by June 1, 2006," Bakiyev said.

On June 1, Kyrgyzstan and the United States completed another round of talks behind closed doors. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said in a statement later that the sides had discussed higher rental payments, compensation for environmental damages and other provisions reflecting Kyrgyzstan's national interests.

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