Azerbaijan: Let's talk on missile system

Updated: 2007-06-08 16:49
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BAKU, Azerbaijan - Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said Friday that Azerbaijan is ready to consider proposed joint US-Russian use of a radar facility in the country as part of a missile defense system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made the proposal Thursday to US President Bush as an alternative to US plans to deploy missile-defense elements in Eastern European countries, a plan to which Russia bitterly objects.

"At this time, Azerbaijan's position, which is supported by the United States and Russia, is that it's necessary to start consultations in a two or three-sided format. I can say that Azerbaijan is ready for such consultations," the foreign minister said at a briefing.

Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic along the Caspian Sea that borders Russia and Iran.

The United States says the missile defense elements that it wants to place in Poland and the Czech Republic are aimed at intercepting possible missile attacks from Iran and North Korea.

Putin contends that putting the system in Eastern Europe would mean it could be used against Russia's missiles, thereby undermining the balance of power in Europe.

Putin said last week that Russia would aim its missiles at Europe for the first time since the end of the Cold War if the US plan goes ahead.

Russia already uses the radar station in Azerbaijan.

With the world's second-largest Shiite Muslim population, secular Azerbaijan has concerns that Iran's Shiite theocracy could spread and some analysts suggested that Iran would be angered by US use of the radar facility.

But Mammadyarov said the proposal "can only bring more stability into the region because it can lead to more predictable actions in the region."