June 25, 2009 / 8:05 AM / 8 years ago

Kyrgyz parliament approves U.S. base deal

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's lawmakers unanimously backed a deal on Thursday that allows the United States to keep open its sole air base in Central Asia, reversing an earlier move to shut it.

In exchange, the United States agreed to pay $180 million to Kyrgyzstan for the use of the Manas air base, a key refuelling point for U.S. aircraft in NATO operations against Taliban insurgents.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev said an earlier February decision to shut the base had been changed after talks with the United States earlier this month. He said the deal imposed no limits on how the U.S. can use Manas.

"The main goal of the agreement is to jointly fight terrorism by providing security assistance to the government of Afghanistan," Sarbayev told parliament.

"The cooperation will be rather broad."

Washington had been haggling to keep the base open since February, when the former Soviet republic announced its closure after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia.

Sarbayev said Bishkek held consultations with Russia about its plans, confirming earlier reports from Moscow.

"It is no secret that there is currently no alternative to the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan. This is the right decision."

A total of 75 deputies voted for the agreement in the 90-seat parliament, with none voting against. Five deputies abstained.

Kyrgyz Government spokesman Aibek Sultangaziyev clarified the future technical definition of how Manas will operate. He said the existing military airbase would formally close in August and its legal status would change to a logistics center.

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