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The Obama administration sent two top officials to Moscow on Wednesday in an effort to retain access to a key military base in Central Asia, in what is the first major test of the administration’s relations with Russia, The Washington Times reported Thursday.

William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs and former ambassador to Moscow, planned to hold talks with senior Russian officials to better understand the link that Washington says exists between the Kyrgyz government’s decision to end the U.S. lease of the Manas air base and a Russian offer of $2 billion in aid for Kyrgyzstan, U.S. officials told the Times.

A senior official told the Times that the administration wants to hear "what it is Kyrgyzstan wants" and whether the Russians want anything in exchange for continued U.S. use of the base, which Washington deems vital to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan — especially at a time when the U.S. is preparing to send 30,000 more troops into the country. State Department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed the visit, the paper noted.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to oust the Americans after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow last week. The Russians insisted, however, that they had nothing to do with the decision, saying the aid package had been under discussion for months. A planned vote in the Kyrgyz parliament on the government’s recommendation has been postponed three times, the Times noted.


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