President Lee will seek Uzbek base for U.S. forces

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President Lee will seek Uzbek base for U.S. forces

In an unusual move, President Lee Myung-bak will act as an emissary for the United States when he meets with Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov tomorrow.

The United States is seeking to use Navoi International Airport as a supply base for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and “President Lee has said he would bring up the issue of the U.S. military base during his summit meeting with President Karimov,” according to a Blue House source.

Uzbekistan had allowed the U.S. military to set up an air base in 2001, but relations between the two countries have been strained since 2005 after the United States condemned Uzbek troops’ violent crackdown on what the government called an antigovernment demonstration.

After that Karimov, who has been in power since 1991, has been reluctant to open the airport to U.S. troops, citing fear of becoming a target of terrorist strikes. Another U.S. supply base, Pakistan, has paid a high price in lives and property lost to repeated Taliban attacks. In a similar vein, Kyrgyzstan had threatened to close off a U.S. air base there, but has since reversed its stance.

The United States needs a strategic supply base, and has looked to Lee for assistance because of his close ties with Karimov and the bonds formed by Korean Air’s role in modernizing the Navoi airport. Sources said Washington has used a high-level diplomatic channel since early last year to ask Lee to deliver its message.

“During President Lee’s visit to Uzbekistan last May, he was busy discussing pressing issues between our two countries,” a Blue House source said. “The United States had been quiet after Kyrgyzstan reversed the decision to close the U.S. base there. But President Lee maintains he will bring up the issue [of the Navoi base] once he gets a chance to do so.”

Blue House insiders are not optimistic that Lee’s words alone will carry enough weight to resolve the base issue. Nonetheless, they said Lee would do his part by delivering the message of an ally.

Lee first met Karimov while he was mayor of Seoul in 2006, and the Uzbek president attended Lee’s inauguration in 2008. During Lee’s visit to Uzbekistan last year, Karimov was a constant shadow by his side, prompting journalists from both countries to quip that Lee was being stalked.

Karimov is scheduled to arrive in Seoul today and hold the summit with Lee tomorrow. Karimov’s three-day visit, which includes meetings with Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho and Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun, is his sixth trip to Korea.

By Seo Seung-wook []
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미, 고위급 채널 통해 요청

이명박 대통령이 11일 이슬람 카리모프 우즈베키스탄 대통령과의 정상회담에서 미국의 요청을 대신 전달할 예정이다.

청와대 핵심 관계자는 8일 “이 대통령이 한·우즈베키스탄 정상회담에서 카리모프 대통령에게 비공식 의제로 우즈베키스탄 나보이 공항을 미군의 아프가니스탄 보급기지로 제공해 달라는 미국 측 요청을 대신 전할 것”이라고 말했다. 양자 정상회담에서 제3국의 관심사를 대신 논의하는 건 국제외교 관례상 이례적이다.

청와대 관계자는 “지난해 초부터 고위급 채널을 통해 미 측이 요청해 왔다”며 “지난해 5월 이 대통령이 우즈베키스탄을 방문했을 때는 현안에 밀려 거론되지 못한 만큼 이 대통령이 ‘이번 기회에 얘기를 해 보겠다’는 입장”이라고 설명했다.

아프가니스탄 전쟁을 수행 중인 미국은 현재 키르기스스탄의 공군 기지를 보급 루트로 이용하고 있다. 하지만 러시아를 의식한 키르기스스탄은 보급 루트를 “폐쇄하겠다”고 압박하고 있다. 대안이 필요한 미국은 요충지인 우즈베키스탄 내 기지를 확보하고 싶어한다.

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