Azeri officials in U.S. for Gabala radar talks

Government officials from Azerbaijan are in the U.S. to discuss the use of the Gabala radar station as part of America's anti-missile defence system. At the recent G8 summit, Russia proposed the site as an alternative to the U.S. plans to build new facili

Azerbaijan has recetly been placed at the centre of international politics.

At the G8 summit in Germany, in a surprise move President Putin suggested the use of the country's Gabala radar base for the United States missile defence system.

A product of the Cold War, the station was originally used to monitor U.S. military activity around the Indian Ocean.

Russian officials say it can be modernized to fit the needs of the American side instead of setting up a new system in Europe.

The U.S. made it clear radar station in Azerbaijan cannot be an alternative.

However, Russia is not planning to give up either.

During his meeting with President Bush Vladimir Putin not only repeated his recent proposal and offered to set up international information exchange centres in Moscow and Brussels, but also put forward new initiatives.

“If necessary we are ready to involve the Gabala radar station and we are ready to modernize it. If that's not enough, we are ready to engage an early warning system which is under construction in southern Russia,” President Putin said.

As an Azerbaijani delegation is getting ready for talks with President Bush, experts say the missile defence system is likely to become the focus, although there is hardly a lack of topics to discuss in the relations between Washington and Baku.

The U.S. has its concerns such as the state of democracy in Azerbaijan and Baku's strengthening relations with Iran.

But also common interests the small country is a big energy player. The oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey, by-passing Russia, was backed by the U.S. According to many experts it has more geopolitical than economic significance.

Moscow has its own hopes for these talks. But today it's Azerbaijan that takes a central role in U.S.-Russian relations and the Gabala radar station is likely to dominate the consultations in Washington as it has become a bargaining chip in the U.S.-Russian game.