White House Welcomes Russian Missile Defense Offer

By David McKeeby
USINFO White House Correspondent

Washington – President Bush welcomed an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin that could transform a dispute over a proposed European missile defense system into a new partnership opportunity for Washington and Moscow.

Meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Eight Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, Putin proposed sharing data from a Soviet-era air-defense radar system operated by Russia in Azerbaijan.  The controversial nuclear ambitions of Iran have motivated U.S. policymakers in their negotiations for the deployment of a limited missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic.

At a joint press appearance, Bush called the Russian offer an “interesting suggestion,” and said the two sides would begin a “serious set of strategic discussions” involving military and diplomatic representatives from both nations to expand on the idea and look for further areas of potential security cooperation. 

The Qabala radar, built in 1985 in northern Azerbaijan, can scan the whole of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and most of North Africa. Putin said he discussed the idea with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, who expressed support, before making the offer to President Bush.

In a separate briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley called the Russian offer “a bold proposal,” which reflects Russia’s agreement on the dangers of nuclear proliferation and a step forward for a new U.S.-Russian partnership in missile defense sought by Washington for more than a decade.

“We’ve asked the Russians to consider cooperating with us on ballistic missile defense, and I think what we got was a willingness to do so, and the president's approach is, we ought to take that,” Hadley said.  “We need to put their proposal and our proposal on the table, get experts together and take a look at it.”

The United States has advocated the European system as protection against future threats from rogue regimes, but Russia strongly has objected to the proposed system, which it said would undermine the strategic balance in Europe and spark a new arms race.  (See related article.) 

Bush said the proposal would be discussed further during upcoming bilateral talks when he welcomes the Russian president to the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, July 1-2.  

A transcript of remarks by Bush and Putin and a transcript of Hadley’s briefing with reporters are available on the White House Web site.

For more information, see Russia.