Gorbachev joins debate on U.S. anti-missile shield in Europe

The first President of the USSR has stepped into the debate on Russia-U.S relations. Mikhail Gorbachev says the most crucial and controversial question of the U.S. anti-missile defence programme is the target of the project.

The planned anti-missile system has caused a growing divide between Moscow and Washington.

“It's a very serious question. Russia's proposal in this question is quite balanced. It should be decided: who is the project targeted at? Iran? But talks with Iran have almost started. North Korea? There are international controllers there. I think dialogue is absolutely the best solution. If not dialogue, what do the Americans want? Maybe what the U.S. Defense Minister Robert Gates said was: Give me more money to expand ground troops, I'm not ruling out war against China or Russia! That's crucial to what's going on in people's heads,” Mr Gorbachev said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department has struck a deal with aerospace giant Boeing to carry out construction work for a missile shield to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Under the $US 80 MLN deal, Boeing will construct ten interceptor rockets to be installed in Europe.

Russia's President suggested the joint use of the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan but the US has still not agreed to the plan.

The opening round of talks between U.S. and Russian experts over missile defence will take place next week in Washington.

Clearly, the [Gabala] radar is properly located and oriented for addressing the Iranian threat in particular.

Herbert Spring, Resercher from Heritage Foundation, Washington

On the agenda are U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe. Russia is a strong opponent of the planed interceptor site in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic and has instead proposed the joint use of the Gabala radar base in Azerbaijan as an alternative.

“The more sensors or eyes that you have on a ballistic missile in flight, the better it is in regards to performing intercept operations, so there is a benefit to it. Clearly, the radar is properly located and oriented for addressing the Iranian threat in particular,” Herbert Spring, Researcher from the Heritage Foundation, commented.

So far the U.S. has remained opposed to the Russian proposal, arguing that it cannot act as a substitute for the planned missile sites.

Russia also offered NATO a strategic partnership to counter possible missile threats.

“I think it’s difficult to say, I think the talks will go on for several rounds so I don't think that next week we will find a definitive answer to that question. I would say that I think that this can become a vehicle for improving U.S.-Russian relations if both sides show appropriate levels of flexibility,” Mr Spring said.

Despite Russian opposition, the Pentagon is pushing ahead with planning and construction of the two sites in Eastern Europe.

Reflecting the growing unease in Congress over U.S. missile defence plans, the House Appropriations Committee slashed $US 139 MLN in funds that was to be used to begin construction of the missile shield sites in Eastern Europe. The committee concluded that it would be premature to give President Bush the total $US 310 MLN he requested, given the uncertainty surrounding the programme.