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Moscow says offer to U.S. on joint radar use still stands-2

Russia's offer to the U.S. on joint use of the Gabala radar station it leases from Azerbaijan is still on the table, a first Russian deputy foreign minister said on Monday.
(Recasts lead, para 6, adds background to Medvedev's threatened retaliation, U.S. reaction in paras 9-15)

MOSCOW, December 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's offer to the U.S. on joint use of the Gabala radar station it leases from Azerbaijan is still on the table, a first Russian deputy foreign minister said on Monday.

"Our proposal remains on the table. The new U.S. administration will encounter serious problems with regard to the implementation of its third missile site plan in Europe. We are not exerting any pressure on the U.S. administration here," Andrei Denisov said.

He added that Russia's proposal was more "cost effective" than other projects since the radar station was already out there and could operate "for decades to come."

Moscow has strongly opposed the possible deployment by the U.S. of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security and nuclear deterrence. Washington says the defenses are needed to deter possible strikes from "rogue states."

Russia has offered the United States the use of its radar stations in Armavir in southern Russia and Gabala in Azerbaijan as alternatives, but Washington said they would only be used as "supplements," if at all.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to retaliate over the U.S. missile shield plans in Central Europe in November by deploying Iskander-M short-range missiles in the country's westernmost region, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, if the U.S. went ahead with the move.

However, Medvedev subsequently said in an interview with France's Figaro newspaper that Russia could "reconsider this response if the new U.S. administration is ready to once again review and analyze all the consequences of its decisions to deploy the missiles and radar facilities."

Washington has provided new proposals to ease Russia's concerns over the planned European missile shield. New confidence-building steps, in particular, would allow Russian monitors access to missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia called the new U.S. proposals "insufficient" and insisted that the U.S. abandon its missile shield plans in Europe altogether.

The chief of the U.S. missile defense agency has said a Russian radar site in Azerbaijan is too close to Iran to serve as a replacement for the planned European U.S. missile defense site.

Lt. Gen. Henry Obering said the Russian proposal was worth pursuing but only as a complement to the radar and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. "It would be too close to serve as a mid-course radar," he said.

He added that the U.S. did not have boost phase defenses yet, "so we can't engage very close to Iran for the long-range threat, and if you get too far back, you begin to roll back coverage and expose countries that could be vulnerable."

"So that's why we chose Poland and the Czech Republic. It gave us the azimuth coverage and the range necessary," the U.S. official said.

He has also strongly denied Russia's claim - that it could be used against them - saying the system would be too close to Russia launch points to be effective.

"The system we are fielding has nothing to do with Russia," Obering said.

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