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Russian offer of joint missile base startles US

Russian offer of joint missile base startles US
AFP
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First Published: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 06 21 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 06 21 AM IST
Heiligendamm, Germany: President Vladimir Putin on 7 June 2007 offered to set up a joint Russian-US anti-missile base to end a crisis between the two countries in a meeting with US President George W Bush on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit.
Putin made the startling proposal to Bush for a joint base in Azerbaijan during talks aimed at rescuing bilateral relations from a post-Cold War low.
Russia angrily opposes a US proposal to set up a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and Putin had threatened to aim Russian weapons at European targets if the US system was deployed.
Russia says it is the target of the shield. The United States insists the system is to guard against an attack by Iran or North Korea.
Putin said he spoke on 6 June to the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who had agreed that the Gabalin base there could be jointly used by Russia and the United States.
Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, said Bush had found the proposal “interesting” and wanted it referred to experts.
Outlining the plan with Bush at his side, Putin said: “We have an understanding of common threats but there are differences over the means for overcoming these threats.”
The Russian leader said the US and Russian military would detect any long-range missile test by Iran and would then have up to five years to set up a joint base before there was any major threat.
He argued that the Azerbaijan-based system would cover all of Europe rather than just parts of it and that any missile debris would fall in the ocean rather than on land in Europe.
Bush told journalists that the two leaders would pursue their “strategic dialogue,” at talks in the United States in early July.
“This is a serious issue,” he commented.
Putin said locating the base in Azerbaijan would ease Russian concerns about a missile shield on its frontier in Europe.
“This will make it unnecessary for us to place our offensive complexes along the border with Europe,” Putin said.
But Putin warned the United States not to go ahead with building the system in Europe while negotiations with Moscow take place.
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First Published: Fri, Jun 08 2007. 06 21 AM IST