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President Sees Iraq, Turkey In Shield

President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the United States could place interceptors in Turkey, Iraq or on the sea instead of setting up a missile defense shield out of eastern Europe.

The comments elaborated on his proposal Thursday for the United States to use the Gabala radar site, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, rather than build a shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

"They could be placed in the south, in U.S. NATO allies such as Turkey, or even Iraq," Putin told reporters at a Group of Eight summit in Germany on Friday. "They could also be placed on sea platforms."

He urged the United States not to act on its plans before concluding proposed talks over the alternative radar site in Azerbaijan.

"Gabala completely covers the whole region that worries the Americans," Putin said in televised remarks.

"We will not be late because Iran does not have these rockets. If Iran starts working on them we will know about it in good time, and if we do not, we will see the first test-launch," he said.

The United States and NATO are treating Putin's offer with caution, but State Duma deputies warned Friday that Washington had no reason to reject the proposal.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, warned that the future tenor of Russian-U.S. relations would depend on whether the United States accepted Putin's proposal.

"If the American side under some pretext or other rejects this Russian proposal, it will be completely clear that the true aim of this project is not only a hypothetical Iranian or North Korean threat but to restrain the nuclear potential of Russia itself," Kosachyov said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Washington's reply would show its real objectives because the Azeri radar can track launches across a vast territory from Turkey to Pakistan and even parts of China and Africa but cannot track launches in Russia, another pro-Kremlin deputy said.

"If the planned deployment of missile defense elements in Europe is, as the U.S. says, not meant to target Russia, then Washington should support Vladimir Putin's proposal," said Nikolai Bezborodov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, Interfax reported.

In Baku, Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said Friday that negotiations over the radar could start immediately.

"At this time, Azerbaijan's position, which is supported by the United States and Russia, is that it is necessary to start consultations in a bilateral or trilateral format. I can say that Azerbaijan is ready for such consultations," Mammadyarov told reporters, Interfax reported.

Azerbaijan's position is likely to anger neighboring Iran, which has a large Azeri minority and has been wary about recent Azeri overtures toward the United States and NATO.

NATO's secretary-general said it was too early to say whether the Azeri base could be the answer to the threat. "It's a bit close to the rogue states we are discussing," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at a conference in Brussels, news agencies reported.

He also criticized Putin's threat earlier this week to retarget Russian missiles at Europe if the U.S. plans materialized, calling it "unhelpful, unwelcome and frankly inadmissible."

Bush said Putin's proposal was interesting, while his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said it "had some elements we have heard before."

Kommersant reported Friday that Russian and U.S. officials had been discussing the possible joint use of the Azeri radar for the past two weeks. The report, citing a source in the White House, said Putin proposed the radar during a telephone conversation with Bush on April 28.

The proposal, however, is unlikely to bear fruit, skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic said.

The Azeri radar is far less precise than the powerful radar, called X-band, that the United States military uses, Rick Lehner of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said Thursday, The Associated Press reported. The agency's director, Lieutenant General Henry Obering said earlier, however, that placing a radar unit in the South Caucasus "would be very useful for the anti-missile system."

A former Russian Air Force commander said he doubted that Putin's proposal would convince the United States to abandon its plans. "It is, of course, an extraordinary step," the commander, Anatoly Kornukov, said of Putin's proposal. But "I think they will not abandon their plans, and there is no way we can hinder them," he said, Interfax reported.

Poland said Friday that it had not received any indication from the United States that talks would stop on placing the missile shield in Central Europe.

(The Moscow Times 11.vi.07)

 
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