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U.S. Experts Visit Qabala Radar in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan/U.S. - Patrick O'Reilly, deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, in Gabala, 18Sep2007
Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly in Qabala today
September 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. military experts have visited the Russian-operated Qabala (Gabala) radar station in Azerbaijan, which Moscow has offered to share with the United States to counter rogue missile threats.

After Russian military officers gave the six-member U.S. delegation a tour of the facility, Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the U.S. delegation and deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said that no formal negotiations had taken place. "The purpose of our visit to Qabala was to gain insight into the radar's capabilities and to fully understand the Russian proposal," he said.

A Possible Compromise?

Russia, which is leasing the radar station from Azerbaijan until 2012, proposed in June that the United States share use of the facility -- providing Washington abandon earlier plans to deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The U.S. antimissile plans have deeply divided Moscow and Washington. Washington says it needs the missile shield to counter threats from states such as Iran and North Korea. Moscow has said that it believes the U.S. plans are aimed at Russia and at destabilizing the global strategic balance.

The issue has soured a relationship additionally strained by talk of a "new Cold War" and Russia's decision to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a key arms pact that limits the deployment of heavy weapons.

Some U.S. experts have expressed skepticism about using the Qabala radar, saying the station's Soviet-era technology would not be compatible with the U.S. system. The Russian military, however, has said that it would be willing to upgrade the technology.

"These are, again, complex radars," O'Reilly said today. "The systems are complex. We've proven that they work, but the analysis required to see how well they work together [with a proposed U.S. system] is [still] work to be done."

Azerbaijan Walks A Fine Line

In the middle of the Moscow-Washington standoff is a third player -- Azerbaijan. Baku is attempting to tread a delicate diplomatic path between advancing its own interests and protecting its relations with Russia, the United States, and Iran.

Speaking to RFE/RL on September 18, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Khazar Ibrahim said that Azerbaijan was not an intermediary, but was taking an equal part on the issue. He said Baku is in favor of a more stable and secure regional and international environment.

"We have a strategic partnership today with the United States. We have rapidly growing relations, friendly and neighborly [relations], with both Russia and Iran, and therefore we don't want to see any conflict situations between any of these nations," Ibrahim said. "And in general, we want to have the region more stable and secure because unfortunately for quite a long time our region has been overwhelmed with conflicts."

The Qabala radar station was built in 1984 in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountain range in northern Azerbaijan and was the one of the Soviet Union's most powerful missile-detection early-warning systems.

The radar has a range of 6,000 kilometers with the power to monitor missiles launched from Asia and Africa. The station is staffed by 900 Russian troops from the Federal Space Forces.

Missile-defense talks between top U.S. and Russian officials are provisionally scheduled for October.

(with material from AFP, AP)

Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 9/19/07 ... --

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