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First deputy PM says Russian radar proposal most effective

RIA Novosti

09/06/2007 17:18 ST. PETERSBURG, June 9 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian first deputy prime minister said Saturday that the joint U.S.-Russian use of a radar in Azerbaijan would be the most effective way of controlling any missile launches from a southerly direction.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the joint use of the Gabala radar, which Russia currently leases from Azerbaijan, during bilateral talks Thursday with U.S. President George W. Bush.

"In my opinion, our proposal is the most effective from the viewpoint of any missiles launched from southerly directions. Any missiles, not only intercontinental but cruise missiles [as well]," Sergei Ivanov, a former defense minister, told a news conference in Russia's second-largest city.

The Gabala radar, located near the town of Minchegaur, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Azeri capital Baku, 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.

Ivanov said Russia approached NATO four years ago with a proposal to create a joint missile defense network and use the existing anti-missile systems, such as the U.S.-made Patriot and the Russian-made S-300 and S-400, as part of common missile defenses.

"We have conducted a series of joint [Russia-NATO] computer-simulated war games that proved the viability of this idea," he said.

The Russian official said Russia shared U.S. concerns about missile development programs in certain countries, but reiterated that the implementation of the Gabala proposal would be beneficial for both sides and would allow Russia and the United States to exchange vital and reliable data on all missile launches within the radar's coverage area.

"We have identical threat assessment with the U.S.," Ivanov said. "This proposal alleviates U.S. concerns over missile programs in several countries."

The United States announced in January plans to deploy an early-warning radar in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor base in Poland as part of its Central European missile shield.

Despite repeated U.S. assurances that the missile shield would be directed against unpredictable states such as Iran and North Korea, the Russian president reiterated at a news conference Friday that Moscow is convinced that the plans "undermine the security of Russia and its citizens."

President Putin said that if the U.S. agrees to the Russian offer, "there would be no necessity of pointing our missiles at any sites in Europe or in the United States."

The Gabala radar, which has been operational since 1985, was leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002. Under current agreements, the radar, Russia's only military facility in Azerbaijan, cannot be put into full combat mode without Baku's prior consent. Its status has been the source of environmental and other tensions in recent years.

Senior government officials in Azerbaijan earlier said the South Caucasus country was ready to discuss the possible joint use of the Gabala radar with both Russia and the U.S.

Meanwhile, Russia's proposal has so far attracted a reserved and cautious reaction from the U.S. and NATO officials.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed the presidents' talks, but said it is too early to assess the Russian proposal.

In an interview with the Associated Press Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to throw cold water on Putin's proposal, saying the U.S. would continue its talks with Poland and the Czech Republic on its missile shield plans regardless of whether negotiations begin on the Russian offer.

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