BISHKEK Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday sought support from Kyrgyzstan's new government to retain its military air base in the Central Asian state, a transit point for its Afghan war effort.
Clinton said the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was crucial to preventing terrorism from spilling into neighboring Central Asian states.
She offered to help Kyrgyzstan create a new body to manage fuel supplies to the Manas air base. Fuel contracts with the base, on the edge of the capital Bishkek, have been dogged by allegations of corruption ever since the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was ousted.
"Kyrgyzstan, by hosting the base, is assisting the efforts in Afghanistan," Clinton said on the Kyrgyz leg of a Central Asian tour that includes stops in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
"The reason that is important for Kyrgyzstan is because we do not want terrorism exported to Kyrgyzstan," she said. "It is about stabilizing Afghanistan so that violence and extremism does not get exported to Central Asia."
The former Soviet republic, which also hosts a Russian air base, is attempting to form the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, a region otherwise governed by authoritarian presidents.
After a landmark election in October, leaders have agreed to form a coalition government that will attempt to restore order to the country in a year when president Bakiyev was overthrown by a popular revolt and hundreds were killed in ethnic riots.
The fuel supply contracts have provoked scorn from Kyrgyzstan's new leaders, who say the Bakiyev family profited unfairly from such deals. The prosecutor-general's office is conducting an investigation, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva said.
"The fuel contract was a result of an open bidding process but we recognize that the government of Kyrgystan is conducting its own investigation into the fuel company," Clinton said.
"We are working on a partnership to help establish a Kyrgyz entity that can take over part of the base contract," she said.
"The State Department will work closely with the Defense Department to expedite the process of helping to create an organization that meets all of the legal standards."
Bakiyev infuriated Russia, which views the country as within its sphere of influence, by extending the lease on Manas in 2009 only months after saying the U.S. military must leave.
Authorities in Central Asia are concerned about the rise of radical Islam, as grinding poverty attracts young people to militant groups and hardened fighters filter back into the region after years fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Otunbayeva said the Manas base was Kyrgyzstan's contribution to the fight against terrorism. "We want the elimination of terrorism, and we hope that this, our modest contribution, will be valued as an important contribution," she said.
Clinton said Washington would examine again in 2014 whether it needed the Manas base. Otunbayeva, who will cede power to parliament when a new government is formed, said it would be up to the country's new leadership to rule on the fate of the base.
Some politicians, mainly from parties outside the proposed coalition, have expressed opposition to the U.S. presence.
Clinton said Manas was the central transit point for troops from 49 countries going into Afghanistan.
She also extended support to Kyrgyzstan's efforts to establish a constitutional democracy.
(Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)