Zokiniai air base looked at for NATO use

  • 2002-07-25
Lithuanian and U.S. officials are discussing the possibility of using the Soviet-built airport near the city of Siauliai for NATO purposes after Lithuania joins the alliance.

Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania John F. Tefft met July 22 to talk about a recently released study of the airport by NATO experts, about the Zokniai air base's condition and its strategic value to NATO.

"The conclusions are rather favorable, and the ambassador did not expect the airport to be in such a good condition," Paulauskas told reporters after the meeting.

Paulauskas said the key issue at the moment was using the air base for both military training and civilian purposes after Lithuania joined NATO.

The airport, which has one of the longest runways in Europe and is capable of handling large cargo planes, was a strategic base for Soviet planes.

It underwent extensive renovation in the mid-1990s and now serves as a civilian airport and also houses nine military aircraft, including four Czech-made L-39 Albatross fighter planes.

"We discussed several specific steps, which the government and local authorities could take," Paulauskas said.

The meeting was Paulauskas' second in a week to discuss the airport's future with U.S. officials.

On July 17 he met with David Hart, the deputy commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe.

Hart also expressed surprise in the airport's condition, Paulauskas said.

None of the discussion reportedly broached the topic of NATO troops being stationed at the base, which Moscow has warned against.