THE AMERICANS ARE IN NO HURRY TO LOOK AT THE GABALA RADAR

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Moscow’s radar station offer remains open

On September 15, the United States, Russia, and Azerbaijan will start consultations on shared use of the Gabala radar station. For the first time in the Gabala radar’s 22-year history, experts from the United States will be granted access to it.


On September 15, the United States, Russia, and Azerbaijan will start consultations on shared use of the Gabala radar station. It was reported earlier that experts would hold consultations in the first week of September. Apparently, the revised date is due to the upcoming meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, at the APEC summit in Sydney on September 8-9.

The starting date for the consultations was announced in Baku by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, who was there to discuss the Gabala radar’s future with the government of Azerbaijan.

Naryshkin said: “The work of this group of experts should largely show how the situation will develop in terms of sharing the use of this radar and missile defense overall.”

For the first time in the Gabala radar’s 22-year history, experts from the United States will be granted access to it. Yet the Americans have let it be understood that they’re in no great hurry to get there. A few hours after Naryshkin’s statement, Jonathan Henick, spokesman for the US Embassy in Azerbaijan, said: “I don’t have any information about a meeting on September 15. We are indeed planning a trilateral visit to Gabala, but we haven’t agreed on the timeframe as yet. If our specialists are free at that time, the visit will take place as indicated. If they don’t agree, the visit will take place at another time.”

So it seems that each side has set its own level of expectations for the meeting of military experts. Moreover, participants in the consultations, on both sides, are awaiting some sort of substantial statements from their leaders. President Putin’s offer to President Bush – joint use of the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan as an alternative to deploying American missile defense elements in Eastern Europe – was made in April 2007. Bush promised to think it over. The Sydney meeting would be a good opportunity to show which way things are going, at least, if not to give a conclusive answer. So far, the Bush administration’s position has come down to the following: the Americans would be open to using the Gabala radar, but they don’t intend to abandon their missile defense plans.

Sergei Naryshkin, making his debut as a negotiator on military-political issues, let it be understood in Baku that Moscow does not intend to back down. If no agreement is reached on missile defense elements in Eastern Europe, Moscow will not hand over Gabala to anyone else after Russia’s lease expires in 2012.

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