By Peter Leonard (AP)
ALMATY, Kazakhstan — A senior adviser to President Barack Obama said Friday that Washington will ensure greater transparency in the supply of aviation fuel to a key U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, where the previous government often was accused of corruption.
Perceived improprieties over a fuel supply deal with the Manas base, which Kyrgyz prosecutors believe financially benefited members of the recently ousted government, have severely dented the standing of the United States in the impoverished Central Asian nation.
Clarifying the procedure of how fuel is purchased would help eliminate speculation about activities at the base, White House official Michael McFaul told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the Kazakh capital, Astana.
"A lot of this information is available publicly, but we want to put it together in one place, and we are even considering having a website where we have all the payments from the transit center that happen," McFaul said.
Kyrgyz prosecutors say that companies owned by a son of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to Manas base, which acts as a key refueling point for warplanes flying over Afghanistan and a major hub for combat troop movement.
Domestic and international critics have suggested the United States may have turned a blind to irregularities in the fuel supply procedure to ensure the future of the base.
The fate of the base was cast into doubt early last year when Bakiyev's government said it would terminate the lease. Kyrgyzstan later agreed to allow U.S. forces to stay after the annual rent was raised to about $63 million from $17 million. Manas was redesignated a "transit center" as part of the deal.
The U.S. hold on the base came under threat again last month after Bakiyev was ousted in a violent uprising and a provisional government took charge.
The acting prime minister, Roza Otunbayeva, has since promised to extend the current base agreement for another year after it expires in July.
But she and other leading members of the government have complained vocally in the past that their pleas for assistance were ignored by Washington when they were in the opposition and facing oppression from Bakiyev's government.
"We are falling down dramatically, and the United States doesn't care," Otunbayeva told The Associated Press in February.
But McFaul denied that the Obama administration had abandoned its commitment to democracy-promotion in favor of U.S. strategic interests in Kyrgyzstan — namely, the Manas transit center.
"That is not our policy in Kyrgyzstan or in any other country," he said. "The moment we have now creates an opportunity for us to be more clear and more direct in articulating President Obama's vision."
McFaul, who was in Kyrgyzstan earlier this week, said he also has urged the provisional authorities to investigate the bloody events of April 7 that propelled them into power. They have to date failed to heed calls for an independent international commission to investigate the clashes between government troops and demonstrators in which at least 85 people died.
Possible solutions could include a bilateral effort with the United States government or a broader international option "to create impartiality and to get the facts right, and to lead to some kind of truth and also reconciliation," McFaul said.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.