The presidents of Russia and the United States agreed Thursday to cooperate on missile defense issues, and Vladimir Putin offered the U.S. joint use of the Gabala radar installation in Azerbaijan in an apparent attempt to ease tensions sparked by Washington's missile shield plans.
"The U.S. response to the Russian proposal will reveal whether the Americans are really concerned about the threats coming from certain global regions, which are common for both Russia and the United States," said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the lower house of the Russian parliament.
The meeting in Germany's Baltic resort of Heiligendamm was the leaders' first since Washington announced earlier this year that it was expanding its missile shield to sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, allegedly to counter a potential threat from Iran and North Korea.
The Kremlin initially responded angrily to the U.S. plans, citing threats to national security, and warned that U.S. missile bases in Europe could become targets of Russian pinpoint strikes.
The bilateral discussions on the sidelines of a G8 summit lasted around one hour, and also involved White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. After the talks, Bush did not give a specific response to Putin's proposal, but said his Russian counterpart had made some "interesting suggestions." However, Hadley went a step further, saying Washington was willing to study the offer.
"If the Americans reject Russia's offer under a certain pretext, we will know for sure that their true goal is not only to stave off a potential threat from Iran or North Korea, but also to neutralize Russia's nuclear potential, which we could have assumed earlier," Kosachev said.
The Gabala radar station, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, is the most powerful in the region. It has a range of about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and enables Russia's Space Forces to monitor launches of intercontinental ballistic and other missiles in Asia and parts of Africa.
Russia's First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Belousov said Friday the Gabala radar was capable of detecting all launches of ballistic missiles from the southern direction.
"Why build something new, for instance, in the Czech Republic or Poland, if we already have everything," Belousov said, referring to the radar capabilities in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan's foreign minister reiterated Friday the Caucasus state was ready to start talks with Russia and the United States on the joint use of its Gabala radar station.
"Russia has approached us with an initiative to use the radar along with the U.S.," Elmar Mamedyarov said. "Azerbaijan is prepared to start consultations in a bilateral and three-party format."
The radar was leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002. It is an early warning system capable of tracing ballistic missiles and other flying objects with high accuracy. The station, Russia's only military facility in Azerbaijan, plays a significant role in the Russian air defense system.
Kosachev said that if the U.S. accepted Russia's proposal, it would mark the beginning of a new kind of partnership between Moscow and Washington because "for the first time some elements of the Russian and U.S. missile defenses would be integrated, leading to cooperation in response to mutual threats, rather than rivalry."