Any move by Washington to tiptoe back into Uzbekistan is certain to enrage Russia, which has accused NATO of triggering a new arms race by beefing up its military presence around Russia.
Once an ally in the US-declared war against terrorism, Uzbekistan evicted US troops from Karshi-Khanabad airbase in 2005 when the West condemned it for firing on protesters in the town of Andizhan.
Robert Simmons, NATO’s special envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was quoted as saying in Moscow that Tashkent was now willing to let the United States use Termez, another Uzbek airbase operated by Germany.
"We welcome the fact Uzbekistan has shown readiness to allow other countries to use this airbase," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "As far as I understand, the United States is beginning to use this facility."
Uzbekistan’s government, accused in the West of suppressing basic freedoms and tolerating no dissent, has made no public statements pointing to a shift in its position on US troops.
The Unites States set up its base, known as K2, in 2001 for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Germany, the only other Western nation operating a military airbase in Uzbekistan, was allowed to keep its forces after 2005.
A Western diplomat in Tashkent said the deal involved allowing US military personnel to use the Termez base, not K2, as a refueling point on their way to Afghanistan and back.
"I understand...US soldiers will be able to fly via Termez but only aboard German aircraft," the diplomat said. "I don’t know if there are any similar agreements with other nations."
The West has stepped up contacts with Uzbekistan over the past year, hoping dialogue would lead the nation towards more democracy. U.S. Admiral William Fallon visited Tashkent in January in a first high-level attempt to mend ties since 2005.
In Andizhan, witnesses said hundreds of people were killed when troops opened fire on a demonstration in 2005.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov blamed the violence on Islamist rebels and put the number of dead at 187, saying most were "terrorists" or security forces.