Uzbek leader says no deadline for U.S. pullout
U.S. presence is said to be a boon for Russia

Reuters English News Service, 28 December 2001

Reuters English News Service
(C) Reuters Limited 2001.

TASHKENT, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Uzbek President Islam Karimov said on Friday he had set no deadline for U.S. troops to pull out of a military base in his country used for U.S. operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Speaking after a regional leaders' meeting on security issues, Karimov said the Central Asian states would themselves decide how long U.S. troops remained on their territory.

Talk of Russian concerns about a U.S. military presence in its former "backyard" smacked of "the stereotypes of old", Karimov said after meeting the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"All these questions will be decided on the basis of the interests of each individual state and the situation that arises in one region or another. I think I speak for everyone."

Karimov has allowed the Khanabad airbase in the south of the country to be used by the United States, which now has an estimated 1,500 personnel stationed there.

Uzbekistan stipulated that it be used only for humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, and Tashkent says the base has not been used for bombing missions.

"We have had no negotiations with the Americans on the issue of how many years they will use Khanabad base," Karimov said.

Kazakhstan, which has no border with Afghanistan, has opened its airspace to U.S. warplanes, while Kyrgyzstan has agreed to allow U.S. and French aircraft use Bishkek's Manas airport.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said the issue is a matter for the states concerned. The Kremlin chief is way ahead of Russia's conservative defence and foreign policy establishment in forging closer security ties with the West.

Privately, some senior Russian military officials argue the U.S. presence in Central Asia is a boon for Russia, providing Moscow with a cost-free increase to the security of unstable states along its vulnerable southern flank.

Reuters English News Service, 28 December 2001