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Joint use of Azeri radar does not remove Iran threat - Obering

RIA Novosti

15/06/2007 12:21 TOKYO, June 15 (RIA Novosti) - The joint use of a radar in Azerbaijan, which Russia has proposed to Washington, would not remove the threat of a missile attack from Iran, the U.S. missile defense chief said Friday.

President Vladimir Putin proposed earlier in June that the U.S. use a powerful radar station Russia leases from the Caucasus state to monitor possible attacks from Iran and North Korea instead of opening installations in Central Europe, which Moscow regards as a threat to its security.

In an interview with Japan's Yomiuri newspaper published Friday, Henry Obering, head of the United States Missile Defense Agency, said if Washington accepted Russia's proposal it would remain exposed to Iran's missile strikes, but he hailed the offer as a very friendly move.

Obering said installing a radar in the Czech Republic and a missile base in Poland was the best possible decision given studies of the possible flight trajectories of long-range ballistic missiles the Islamic Republic was working on at the moment. He said the bases in Europe would be opened in 2011-2013.

Putin's proposal at a Group of Eight leading industrialized nations summit in Germany marked a thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington after weeks of tensions over U.S. missile shield plans in Europe, when Putin threatened to point Russian warheads at Europe in a flashback to the Cold War confrontation.

Obering said Washington was studying the possibility of using the radar in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation bordering on Iran. He said sharing information on detected launches from Iran could be useful to the U.S. military.

If Russia joined the missile defense shield being created, it would be a strong message to Iran and North Korea, Obering said.

Azerbaijan's president reiterated Friday that he was prepared to discuss details of Russia-U.S. cooperation at the Gabala radar station if Moscow and Washington continued their dialogue on the matter. Bush earlier said Putin's proposal needed discussion between military experts.

But Ilkhan Aliyev said he was opposed to opening new bases in his country, in an apparent reference to Russia's concerns about earlier reports on U.S. military plans for the South Caucasus region.

Cooperation should be confined to "sharing radar data, and there is no need to build new facilities," Aliyev said, adding that foreign military contingents were not necessary in the country either.

NATO defense ministers are expected to study possible political and military consequences of U.S. plans to extend its missile shield to Europe for the NATO theater missile defense.

NATO Spokesman James Appathurai said Friday the study would be completed by February 2008, two months ahead of a NATO summit in Romania. He said NATO countries had backed the plans, and the alliance had suggested linking Europe's missile defenses to the mulled U.S. installations.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is expected to meet with Pentagon chief Robert Gates in Brussels Friday on the sidelines of a two-day session of NATO defense ministers to discuss the missile shield plans, among other issues, a member of the Russian delegation said.

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