ASTANA, December 10 (RIA Novosti) - Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan - home to Russia's main rocket launch center - from Russian to local jurisdiction, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency (Kazkosmos) said on Monday.
"Today both nations' governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers," Kazkosmos head Talgat Musabayev told Kazakhstan's parliament.
Kazakhstan has demanded reestablishment of the commission which previously oversaw the main aspects of the intergovernmental agreement on Baikonur, the site of the first Soviet rocket launches and Russia's most important space launch center.
The issue of control over Baikonur and the rent Russia pays Kazakhstan to use the facility have been the subject of ongoing dispute between the two nations ever since Kazakhstan gained independence from the USSR.
The two sides signed an agreement in Astana on January 9, 2004, extending Russia's use of the space center's facilities until 2050. Russia pays an annual fee of approximately $115 million to use the space center, which currently has the world's busiest launch schedule, as well as $50 million annually for maintenance.
Kazakhstan ratified the deal in 2004, following Russia's threats to suspend other space projects with Kazakhstan if it did not do so.
Earlier this year, Kazakhstan blocked Russia from launching several rockets from Baikonur in May in a dispute over a drop zone for debris. Kazakhstan insisted this must be covered by a supplement to the main rent agreement. Kazakhstan agreed in June to let launches go ahead, following talks with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his Kazakh counterpart Karim Massimov.
Baikonur has 15 launch pads for launching both manned and unmanned space vehicles and supports several generations of Russian spacecraft including the Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr and Zenit.
Russia and Kazakhstan are working to build a new space launch facility at Baikonur, called Baiterek, to launch Angara carrier rockets capable of delivering 26 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbits. The project is being implemented on a parity basis and enjoys tax and customs privileges.
The two countries have reportedly each allocated $223 million for the construction of the Baiterek launch site under a 2004 agreement.
Russia intends to eventually withdraw from Baikonur and conduct launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region and to complete construction of the Vostochny space center in the Far East.