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Moscow's radar station gambit

By Hossein Amiri, Tehran Times Opinion Column

TEHRAN, June 13 (Mehr News Agency) -- The U.S. plan to establish a missile defense system in Europe has met serious opposition from Russia, and it seems that the Kremlin's grandmasters are trying a gambit to trick U.S. officials into revealing their hand.

White House officials repeatedly say that they want to establish a missile system in Eastern Europe to counter missile threats from Iran and North Korea. Yet it seems that both U.S. and Russian officials are aware that this is a ruse.

In January 2007, the U.S. asked Poland and the Czech Republic, both former satellites of the Soviet Union and current members of the European Union and NATO, to permit the establishment of a U.S. anti-missile defense system on their territory. This would consist of a missile shield in Poland and an anti-missile radar system in the Czech Republic.

Russia, which is the chief opponent of the proposal, believes that Tehran and Pyongyang lack the missile capability to seriously threaten the U.S. Thus, the Kremlin believes the anti-missile defense system is meant to neutralize the effectiveness of Russia's missile systems.

But what is the real aim of the United States? Are U.S. officials sincere in their claims that the missile shield is aimed at Iran and North Korea? Do the Russians really believe the missile shield is aimed at them?

Russia says that dialogue in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council is the best way to settle the problem. This could postpone the implementation of the project, perhaps indefinitely.

But Poland has not agreed to this request.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski has said that if Warsaw holds talks with the United States rather than NATO, the project can be completed sooner.

Kaczynski has also said that the project will never be completed if all NATO members are consulted, because they would take Russia's stance into consideration before making a decision.

Given the difficulties that might arise from seeking a solution through dialogue with NATO, Russia has adopted another strategy.

Russian Ambassador to Baku Vasili Istratov has said that Russia might study a plan for shared use with the United States of the Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan.

The Qabala radar station is a giant anti-missile radar system built by the Soviet Union in the Qabala region of Azerbaijan in 1985. The radar station has a range of up to 6000 kilometers and was designed to detect missile launches originating as far away as the Indian Ocean. The radar's surveillance covers Iran, Turkey, India, and the entire Middle East. It allows not only detection of the launch of a missile but also tracking of its entire trajectory, enabling an anti-missile system to intercept an offensive strike. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Azerbaijan began negotiating the terms of the lease and in 2002 the two countries signed an agreement according to which Russia leased the station from Azerbaijan until 2012.

On the sidelines of the recent G8 summit, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Azeri President Ilham Aliyev had agreed to the use of the Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan as an element of the U.S. missile defense system.

Gen. Victor Yesin, the former chief of staff of the Russian Strategic Missile Troops, has said that Russia had earlier made a proposal for joint use of this station to allow the U.S. to neutralize the alleged threat of Iranian missiles.

So this is not news. However, if U.S. officials agreed to use Qabala, there would be no need to build another radar station in the Czech Republic because the Qabala station could easily monitor Iranian missiles, which U.S. officials say is the main reason they feel they need a missile defense system.

Gen. Yesin explained that implementation of this project is possible within the framework of a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a joint center for monitoring missile launches signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents in 2000.

Thus, there is no legal obstacle for the U.S. to agree with the Russian proposal, as long as the political will is there, the Russian general has said.

But will the U.S. agree to the plan? Does Russia really feel threatened by Iranian missiles, whose capabilities it knows very well, or is it trying to test the United States?

In any case, it seems that the Russians' radar station gambit is meant to test Washington's intent. If the U.S. refuses to accept the proposal, Washington-Moscow relations will most likely go from political courtesies to heightened situation.

Meanwhile, one might ask if Russia has adopted this tactic with the intention of sacrificing Iran for its own interests. Even if the U.S. rejects the Russian proposal, Tehran will view the whole affair as an attempt to use Iran.

It is obvious that if the Pentagon agrees to use the radar station, it would be very difficult for the United States to convince Russia that it needs to build a similar station in the Czech Republic, and Moscow plans to make abandonment of the Eastern European missile defense system a condition for Washington's use of the Qabala radar station, Yesin has stated.

Given the Azeri president's approval of the plan, it is possible that the U.S. will agree to the proposal.

However, by allowing the deployment of U.S. forces so near to the Iranian border, would Russia not be breaking its alliance with Iran?

And doesn't this make it clear that Russia has no qualms about using Iran to neutralize the threats of the United States?

... Payvand News - 6/13/07 ... --

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