BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan is the foundation for bilateral diplomacy with the United States, a scholar said during bilateral meetings in Bishkek.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake arrived Thursday in Bishkek to discuss the pending military transition in nearby Afghanistan. The secretary praised the government for its work on political and economic reforms.
"The democratic system of Kyrgyzstan serves as a model for the whole region," he was quoted by Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg as saying.
The U.S. military uses the Manas Air Base as a major stopping point for military supplies en route to Afghanistan. A lease for the airbase expires in 2014, when international forces are scheduled to wrap up their Afghan mission.
Muratbek Imanaliyev, president of the country's Public Policy Institution, said Manas was a key part of bilateral ties to the United States.
"If Manas Air Base is removed from Kyrgyzstan, all our contacts with the U.S. government will stop," he was quoted by the news agency as saying. "There is no full-fledged regular cooperation between our countries."
Blake's visit comes amid tensions with Uzbekistan over the Sokh enclave. Russia's state-run news agency reports that helicopters from the former Soviet republic have delivered food assistance to three villages along the Uzbek border.
A state of emergency was declared in parts of the area because Uzbek forces had blocked access to the region early this week. The enclave has been a source of tension between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments for more than a decade.