WASHINGTON May 12 A U.S. Senate panel on
Tuesday approved millions of dollars to help Kyrgyzstan improve
its air traffic control system, as Washington seeks to keep
access to airfields in the Central Asian country.
Kyrgyzstan decided in February to shut Manas Air Base,
which supports military operations in Afghanistan, later this
year, after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit
from Russia. About 1,000 U.S. military personnel are based at
Moscow regards the region as part of its sphere of
influence and resents the U.S. military presence there.
Senate Democratic aides said the Obama administration
requested $30 million with the understanding that it would be
used for air traffic control upgrades if and when a deal is
reached with Kyrgyzstan to keep U.S. access to airfields
The Senate appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign
Operations tucked the amount into the foreign aid portion of a
bill to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars for the remainder of this
year. The full Senate appropriations committee will take up the
legislation later this week.
The $30 million in Kyrgyzstan funds are already in the
House version of the war funding bill, which totals $96.7
billion. The House plans to vote on it on Thursday or Friday;
congressional leaders in both chambers want to finish the war
funding legislation by the last week of this month.
The Manas 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 back against a resurgent Taliban.
The Pentagon said recently that the United States had made
progress in trying to persuade Kyrgyzstan not to close the
base. But Kyrgyzstan denied that talks on the matter were being
A U.S. defense official said on Tuesday that the money was
intended to provide budget flexibility to continue operations
in Kyrgyzstan in case a deal is reached. But the official, who
spoke on condition of anonymity, said the money would not be
available if Manas closes.
"Discussions are continuing and the secretary holds out
hope for a favorable outcome," the official said in reference
to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The United States currently pays $17.4 million a year to
use the base and total U.S. assistance to Kyrgyzstan is $150
million a year -- a considerable amount in the impoverished
former Soviet state's $4 billion economy.
The Senate appropriations subcommittee refused to approve
about $95 million the Obama administration sought for economic
aid to North Korea in the form of heavy fuel oil shipments.
Those shipments have been halted, but the administration had
wanted the money to be approved in the event the North Koreans
returned to multilateral talks on dismantling their nuclear
(Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia