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Azerbaijan ready to discuss radar use with Russia, U.S. - diplomat

RIA Novosti

07/06/2007 22:04 BAKU, June 7 (RIA Novosti) - Azerbaijan is willing to hold bilateral and multilateral talks with Russia and the United States on the joint use of a radar installation in the country, a senior diplomat said Thursday.

During a meeting with President George W. Bush at a Group of Eight summit in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the United States the joint use of a radar installation in Azerbaijan in an apparent attempt to ease tensions sparked by Washington's missile shield plans.

A White House adviser called the Russian proposal a "bold" and "interesting" move, and promised to thoroughly study the initiative.

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Azerbaijan is currently holding consultations both with Russia and the U.S. on the joint use of the Gabala radar in the north of the country.

In particular, the diplomat said the issue was a subject of discussion at a meeting between the South Caucasus nation's foreign minister, Elmar Mamedyarov, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week in Baku.

The Gabala radar station, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, is the most powerful in the region. It has a range of about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and enables Russia's Space Forces to monitor launches of intercontinental ballistic and other missiles in Asia and parts of Africa.

The radar was leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002. It is an early warning system capable of tracing ballistic missiles and other flying objects with high accuracy. The station, Russia's only military facility in Azerbaijan, plays a significant role in the Russian air defense system.

Azerbaijan confirmed in January it would not revise the terms of the agreement, despite speculations following Russia's move to hike the natural gas export price for the country.

Putin said after a meeting with Bush that he discussed the radar issue with the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

"The current agreement allows us to do it [jointly use the radar]," the Russian leader said.

Russian experts believe that the joint use of the Gabala radar would be beneficial for all parties concerned as it covers all potential missile threats coming from Asia, and could eliminate the need to place missile defense radars in Europe, including in the Czech Republic.

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