ASTANA, Kazakhstan, July 10 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan signed an agreement with the United States on Wednesday to allow warplanes operating in Afghanistan to land at its main airport, but stopped short of offering a permanent base. Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov and U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper signed a memorandum on emergency landing and refuelling of coalition planes in Almaty, the Central Asian state's main air gateway and commercial capital.
"The talk is primarily about U.S. warplanes," Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev told a news briefing after the signing ceremony. But he stressed: "There is no talk of setting up military bases here (in Kazakhstan)."
Last year two other ex-Soviet central Asian states, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, were quick to offer airports as bases to U.S.-led coalition forces waging war in nearby Afghanistan after Russia gave them the go-ahead.
An unknown number of U.S. troops are deployed at Uzbekistan's Khanabad airbase for humanitarian and search-and-rescue operations in Afghanistan.
A multinational force of roughly 1,900 is also deployed at Manas, the main Kyrgyz airport near the capital, Bishkek. The strength of that force is expected to rise to 3,000 later this year.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan retains close ties with its northern neighbour Russia, but at the same time Astana values its cordial relations with the West, which views Kazakhstan as an increasingly important supplier of energy and has invested billions of dollars in its booming economy.
Reuters, July 10, 2002