US experts visit Russian-leased missile defense site

Experts visited the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan amid tensions over US plans to install elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

September 18, 2007 19:08
2 minute read.
US experts visit Russian-leased missile defense site

Russia radar 224. (photo credit: AP [file])

US missile defense experts on Tuesday visited a Russian-operated radar station that Moscow is offering to share to counter potential missile threats from nations including Iran, but a top US general suggested its technology was outdated. Experts visited the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan amid stubborn tensions over US plans to install elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellites that are now members of NATO. Brig. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, deputy director of the US Missile Defense Agency, said the experts were interested in what the Russian-leased radar station could offer but seemed to indicate it was too old for the purpose of defending against a potential threat from Iran - Washington's main argument for building the European system. "Our impression here was that it is a radar that has performed the function it was designed to by the Russians back in the '80s and has been performing since and we are evaluating how that would fit in with a mutually beneficial cooperative way ahead," O'Reilly told reporters after the visit. Russia fears that the US anti-missile efforts are aimed at weakening their country and upsetting the strategic balance. They have dismissed US arguments that the installations are intended to counter a potential threat from Iran. President Vladimir Putin surprised US President George W. Bush in June with an offer to share the towering Gabala station and a second radar under construction in southern Russia. The US administration welcomed the proposal but refused Russia's demand that it suspend plans for sites in Europe during talks with Moscow. Tuesday's meeting came after two rounds of talks that brought no signs of progress in bridging the rift. The issue is among the most divisive in strained relations between Moscow and Washington. A top Russian military official voiced hope that Tuesday's visit would help jump-start the talks with new ideas for cooperation. "The work was fruitful, at least we heard words of gratitude from our American colleagues, and the work that was done allowed us to switch from discussions and briefings to the practical matters," Maj. Gen. Alexander Yakushin, first deputy chief of staff of Russia's Space Forces, said. However, earlier Yakushin suggested Moscow still disagrees with Washington's view of the potential threat from Iran. While Washington estimates Iran could become capable of launching an intercontinental missile by about 2015, Russia believes Iran is decades away. "The most important task now is to react adequately to threats that really exist to the south (of Russia), and not future hypothetical threats of 2020-2025," RIA-Novosti quoted Yakushin as saying. Yakushin also emphasized that Russia wants the United States to halt all moves toward installation of a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland, RIA-Novosti reported. The US administration is interested in the radars that Putin has offered, but as an addition to the system planned for Central Europe, not as a substitute. The Gabala radar is of a type that could not perform the same function as the one planned for the Czech Republic. The US-built radar would track a missile after it had been detected by other means. The missile defense system also would need other radars to detect launches. While the US has some of those capabilities, the Gabala facility's proximity to Iran - just south of Azerbaijan - could help identify missile trajectories earlier. O'Reilly said that a meeting between US and Russian experts will be held in Moscow on October 10.

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