U.S. base will remain for duration of Afghan war, Rays says

The United States won new assurances Tuesday that an important air base used to support the war in Afghanistan will remain open as long as necessary.

Rice and Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a brief statement promising open-ended U.S. use of the Manas air base for Afghan operations and a U.S. inquiry into whether past payments for use of the facility might have fallen into corrupt hands.

Rice is in Central Asia to celebrate democratic progress, such as the generally clean election that brought Bakiyev to power this year after the ouster of an increasingly authoritarian predecessor. Rice also wanted to firm up U.S. rights to the base, for which it pays about $40 million (Ђ33.27 million) to $50 million (Ђ41.59 million) a year, the AP reports.

Tensions over military bases rose over the summer when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, dominated by Russia and China, urged the U.S. military to withdraw its bases from both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The move was seen as a joint effort by Russia and China to drive the United States out of the strategically placed, resource-rich region, and Bakiyev initially seemed to go along.

Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian base, and the country is still heavily influenced in language, architecture and culture by its years as a Soviet republic.

U.S. officials said Tuesday's agreement is the first time Bakiyev has put the base rights in writing, and represented his most explicit repudiation of the Russian and Chinese position. A.M.

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