The United States will pursue its own plans to put a missile defense in Eastern Europe despite Russian suggestions to locate it outside the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Associated Press Friday. Rice said Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise offer to share a Soviet-era radar tracking station in Azerbaijan for the project had caught the Bush administration off guard, but that it was worth looking into even while missile defense negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic continue.
Putin offers options for US missiles
"One does not choose sites for missile defense out of the blue," she said in an interview. "It's geometry and geography as to how you intercept a missile."
"This is an idea that has not yet been vetted," she said of Putin's offer, made Thursday to President George W. Bush at a meeting in Germany. "We have to see whether Azerbaijan makes any sense in the context of missile defense."
Rice said Putin's idea, which represented an apparent softening in Moscow's hardline opposition to missile defense, could be positive but stressed that Washington would do what it saw fit to deal with the "real security problem" posed by rogue states like Iran and North Korea.
"If it is a way to begin more serious discussions about what we believe is a common threat which is the threat of the Irans and North Koreas of the world launching missiles - that's a very positive development," she said.
"But we are continuing our discussions with the Czech Republic and Poland and we're going to do that, we are continuing our discussions in NATO, and we're going to do that. We will do what is best from the point of view of actually dealing with the problem, which is a real security problem. This isn't a faux security problem."
The United States has been pushing a plan that would put the radar tracking station in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland to protect European and NATO allies from attacks.
Until Putin's Azerbaijan offer on Thursday, Russia has been vehemently opposed to the entire concept, arguing that it poses a threat to its nuclear deterrent.