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Manas-festing Dissent: Conflicting reports have surfaced this week over whether the US and Kyrgyzstan are nearing an agreement that would allow the US military to keep using Manas Air Base in the Central Asian republic as a hub for shuttling personnel and equipment into neighboring Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday during a press conference that US officials “have been engaged in conversations with them” about extending US access to that facility. He said he thought “there's actually progress in dealing with the Kyrgyz on Manas” and that “we see reason for hope there, that that can be worked out.” Conversely, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov yesterday denied that his government is holding any talks with the US, FoxNews.com reported. "There was not, and is not, any order and authorization for any government official to conduct such negotiations," Chudinov told reporters. In February, the Kyrgyzstan government ordered the US to vacate the base by August, per a clause in the existing lease agreement. This came right around the time that the Obama Administration announced its plans to beef up the US presence in Afghanistan. Chudinov said yesterday the Kyrgyz decision remains in force and unchanged. (Excerpt on Manas from Morrell’s press conference)