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11 Jul, 2007 19:48

No progress in alternative ABM site talks

There has been no progress in talks between Azerbaijan and the U.S. in Washington on Russian proposals for the U.S. to jointly use the Gabala radar base as an alternative site for an anti-missile shield.

Moscow made the offer to encourage the U.S. to drop plans to base elements of the system in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the U.S. maintains Gabala will not protect its interests in Europe.

As joint security consultations between Azerbaijan and the U.S. wrapped up, the two sides came to no agreements on the Russian proposal to share use of the Gabala radar station. At a press conference discussing the outcome of the 10th annual bilateral security dialogue, Azerbaijani officials pledged to continue to work with both countries to find a resolution.

“Of course Azerbaijan is interested in further consideration of these matters, because first of all the station is located in our territory and second it is our property, we cannot be neutral or indifferent to such a matter,” said Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov.
Located in Northern Azerbaijan, the Gabala early warning radar station was put into operation in 1988 by the Soviet Union to detect missile launches from the Indian Ocean. An agreement with Russia was signed in 2002 to lease the radar base for 10 years. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the joint use of the radar to the U.S. as an alternative to building new installations in Europe.
Thus far, however, the U.S. has remained resistant to the Russian proposal.

“What we do not accept is that Gabala is a substitute for the plans that we are pursuing with our Czech and Polish allies. We believe that those installations are necessary for the security of our interests in Europe. And so we do not believe in the Gabala suggestion and we are still going to go ahead with the installations on those sites,” stresses U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull.

Azerbaijan seen as a major link between Europe and Asia is perceived as the key to easing the tensions over missile defence. Both Moscow and Washington are interested in developing relations with Baku as their strategic partner.

And Azerbaijan, indeed, expresses its willingness to develop co-operation. As Mr Azimov underlined, his country “would prefer to have Russian tankers not tanks inside the region. A friendship of peaceful co-existence and peaceful co-operation can be established by economic presence, by cultural ties, and we wish for further developments of Russian contribution by this track.”

As it now stands, the Russian proposal to share use of the Gabala radar station is on its last legs. U.S. officials say that more information is needed on how to integrate the Gabala site with their missile defence plans. Formal consultations at an expert level on missile defence between U.S. and Russia will take place at the end of this month.