Kyrgyzstan denies talks with U.S. on air base

A U.S. ground staff member of the Manas Air Base near Bishkek stands at the tarmac of the airfield, February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan is not holding any talks with the United States on allowing it to keep its air base in the Central Asian state, Prime Minister Igor Chudinov said on Wednesday.

The United States said on Tuesday it had made progress in trying to persuade Kyrgyzstan not to close the Manas air base which supports military operations in Afghanistan.

“No talks are being held,” Chudinov told reporters. “No official has been authorized (to negotiate on the matter).”

The former Soviet republic said in February it had decided to shut the base after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia, which sees the region as part of its sphere of influence and resents the U.S. military presence there.

About 1,000 U.S. military personnel are based at Manas, along with smaller contingents of French and Spanish troops.

The base is a major hub for moving military personnel and supplies in and out of Afghanistan, where the United States is deploying tens of thousands of extra troops this year in an effort to fight the Taliban.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, edited by Richard Meares