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Russia, U.S. agree on missile defense dialogue

RIA Novosti

07/06/2007 20:45

HEILIGENDAMM, June 7 (RIA Novosti) - The presidents of Russia and the United States agreed Thursday to cooperate on missile defense issues, and discussed the possibility of jointly using a radar installation in Azerbaijan.

After a bilateral meeting with George W. Bush at a Group of Eight summit in Germany, Vladimir Putin said: "We have a mutual understanding of common threats, but we also have differences over how we can counter and prevent these threats."

"If we work together on countering the threats that we discussed today, while considering our mutual concerns, and if we make this work transparent and ensure access to this [radar] system, then we will certainly eliminate these concerns," the Russian leader said.

The meeting in Germany's Baltic resort of Heiligendamm was the leaders' first since Washington announced earlier this year that it was expanding its missile shield to sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, allegedly to counter a potential threat from Iran and North Korea.

The Kremlin responded angrily to the U.S. plans, citing threats to national security, warning that U.S. missile bases in Europe could become targets of Russian pinpoint strikes.

Russia last week tested a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and a new cruise missile, saying the tests were part of Moscow's response to U.S. anti-missile plans.

But at the talks, 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.

The discussions lasted around one hour, and also involved White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. After the talks, Bush did not give a specific response to Putin's proposal, but said his Russian counterpart had made some "interesting suggestions." However, Hadley went a step further, saying Washington was willing to study the offer.

The Russian leader said: "We have thoroughly studied the U.S. [missile defense] proposals. We have our own ideas and I have explained them to the U.S. president."

"The first idea is to jointly use a radar that Russia leases from Azerbaijan in Gabala," he said, adding that the joint use of the Gabala radar would allow Russia to avoid aiming its missiles at Europe.

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.

Putin said Moscow would not seek to retarget Russian missiles on Europe if the United States agreed to jointly use the radar in the ex-Soviet Caucasus nation.

The joint use of the radar "will eliminate the need to place our missile complexes near the border with European countries, and at the same time avoid placing U.S. missiles in outer space," Putin said.

The Gabala radar station 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.

Commenting on the agreements between the Russian and U.S. presidents, Alexei Arbatov, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Center for International Security, said Russia had made the right move by proposing a joint use of the Gabala radar installation.

"The Gabala radar faces south and covers all potential missile threats from this direction, starting from Turkey and ending with Pakistan, in a wide arc," Arbatov told RIA Novosti.

He said the joint use of the Gabala radar would be beneficial for all parties concerned and could eliminate the need to place missile defense radars in Europe, including in the Czech Republic.

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