U.S. wants to use Manas airport after 2014, but may also look to neighbouring countries

The United States would like to extend its agreement with Kyrgyzstan on the use of Manas airport for the delivery of goods to Afghanistan after 2014, CA-NEWS reports. However, Washington does not exclude the possibility that it will have to look for another hub in one of the neighbouring countries, assistant U.S. Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, ITAR-TASS reported.

He noted that that the current agreement between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan on the use of the transit centre at Bishkek airport expires in mid-2014 and there is still time to prepare a new agreement. However the U.S. administration has already begun consultations on this issue with Kyrgyz leadership.

Almazbek Atambaev previously stated that the Manas Transit Centre where there are more than 1000 U.S. troops should be exclusively civilian. The 'military component' should be removed from it, but it "can continue to play the role of a transit centre for cargo and American troops" from Afghanistan, Blake said.

However, negotiations on this issue between Washington and Bishkek "cannot be predicted," admitted the assistant secretary of state. "We are only at the beginning of this process."

Blake explained that much will depend on the situation prevailing after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and on the need of further assistance to this country. Perhaps the U.S. will have to keep a limited military contingent there in accordance with an agreement on security issues which is planned to be signed with Kabul in the autumn of 2013.

"By that time we will have a clearer idea of what facilities we may need in Central Asia," the American diplomat said. "So we'll have to wait for an agreement on security issues in Afghanistan to determine exactly how much we need Manas and if we have to request the use of some facilities in other places."

He did not mention any negotiations with the other Central Asian states. However, the chairman of the subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, noted that the delegation of U.S. congressmen raised this issue not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also "in a neighbouring country" during a recent trip to the region.

"The U.S. sees Tajikistan as an alternative to Kyrgyzstan to deliver the goods to Afghanistan after 2014," Burton said at a press conference during his visit to Dushanbe in mid-July. "No negotiations with the U.S. on the deployment of military bases in Tajikistan were held," the foreign minister of the Republic Hamrokhon Zarifi said, commenting on these statements.

Blake confirmed at the hearing that the U.S. "doesn't seek to establish any permanent military bases in Central Asia," but only "to continue preliminary discussions with the Government of the Kyrgyzstan on the future of the transit centre after 2014."