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US senators lobbying for NATO missile defense radar in Georgia

US senators lobbying for NATO missile defense radar in Georgia
Four US Republican senators consider Tbilisi as a reliable partner which could host a missile defense radar “aimed at Iran.”

­Senators Jon Kyl, James Risch, Mark Kirk and James Inhofe have called on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to consider the Republic of Georgia as a potential host for the TPY-2 missile defense radar.

Earlier, the US administration chose Turkey for the radar site. However, Ankara would agree to host it only if the US does not share the gathered information with Israel. Washington cannot agree to any such limitation, the senators said in a letter, dated February 3 and published by the Cable blog of The Foreign Policy magazine.  

The politicians recommend the US administration to consider alternate sites and say Georgia’s geographic location would make it an ideal place for a radar aimed at Iran. It would better protect the US from possible long range missile launches than Turkey or other countries of southeastern Europe, the senators believe.

They also described Tbilisi as a significant partner for defense cooperation “as a future member of NATO or in another capacity.” The senators also want Gates to advise them if the administration is considering Georgia as a potential participant in the missile defense program.

This letter suggests that the new Congress may be more interested in military cooperation with Tbilisi after it slowed following the August 2008 conflict in the Caucasus. The list of senators who have already lobbied for more support to Georgia includes John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Richard Lugar.

It is clear that any plans to place the radar in Georgia will be rebuked by Moscow. It has always opposed calls by some in the US to rearm Tbilisi, especially following Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia in 2008.    

The new TPY-2 radar is considered part of the NATO missile defense system that was discussed at the alliance’s Lisbon summit in November last year. Then the alliance officially invited Russia to take part in a joint missile defense program.

President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the idea at the summit, but he stressed that Russia “should consider what it will be.” Moscow will participate in the joint project only if it acts as a partner and has equal rights with NATO.

Moscow had opposed the program of former US President George Bush’s administration to deploy elements of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. President Obama scrapped the plans.   

If Russia does not take part in the project, “we will have to defend ourselves,” Medvedev warned in Lisbon. Russia is still waiting for the details of NATO’s program. However, even Europeans do not seem to fully understand it.

Moscow has made its offers, and the ball is in NATO’s court, Medvedev said on January, 28. Russia’s position in a short time will depend on the reply from the alliance. Earlier, the president had warned that Russia would have to redeploy its nuclear missiles if NATO fails to agree on common missile defense. “We expect from our NATO partners a direct and unambiguous answer – where they see Russia’s place,” he said.