NATO: Putin’s offer not alternative to U.S. missile defense plan in Europe

By Xinhua

Brussels : Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal for a joint Russia-U.S. anti-missile radar site in Azerbaijan is not an alternative to the U.S. plan to deploy missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe, said NATO chief Jaapde Hoop Scheffer on Thursday.

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    "I don't think that the offer by President Putin — the proposal he made in Heiligendamm on the Azeri radar site — is going to replace, or be an alternative to the bilateral negotiations going on between the U.S. and Poland, and the U.S. and the Czech Republic," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Bill Gates told the meeting that Putin's proposal should be discussed first by American and Russian technical experts, said de Hoop Scheffer.

    Moscow was strongly opposed to the U.S. plan to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a related radar station in the Czech Republic.

    Putin at the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, surprisingly offered to have a joint radar site in Azerbaijan with the United States.

    A NATO official, who refused to be named, said the Americans insist that an Azeri site can be used for the purpose of early warning, but not the precise tracking of missiles.

    NATO Assistant Secretary General John Colston said prior to the defense ministers' meeting that there were arguments that a radar site in Azerbaijan might be too close to potential sources of missile threats.

    A NATO missile defense feasibility report identified Iran as one of the potential sources of missile threats for Europe.

    NATO defense ministers on Thursday agreed to assess the political and military implications of the U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

    This is the first time that NATO has made a decision concerning the U.S. plan. Previously, NATO allies had held discussions and consultations on the U.S. plan.

    "The NATO roadmap on missile defense is now clear. It is practical and it is agreed by all," de Hoop Scheffer told a separate press conference on Thursday.

    He explained the NATO needs to look into the political and military impacts of the American system in Europe because the alliance is based on the principle of "indivisibility of security," a NATO jargon meaning that all allies should have the same protection.

    The planned U.S. missile defense system can cover most of Europe. But Turkey and parts of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece will be left out of the protection, thus harming the principle of "indivisibility of security."

    "We can never have grade A and B allies in the alliance because all allies are created equal," said de Hoop Scheffer.