Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a joint Russian-US base to detect missile attacks in a startling proposal to overcome a crisis between the two countries.
Putin offered President George W. Bush the joint use of a Russian radar base in Azerbaijan as an alternative to plans for a US missile shield in central Europe.
Russia has angrily opposed the planned US shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and Putin had threatened to return to the Cold War policy of aiming Russian missiles at European targets, if it was deployed.
Putin said a joint base would “remove the need, would allow us to not change our policy on non-targeting of our missiles.”
Putin and Bush met Thursday on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany in a bid to rescue relations which were at a post-Cold War low amid their missile defence wrangling.
Bush found the Russian offer “interesting” and proposed experts from the two countries examine it, his national security advisor,
Stephen Hadley, said later.
Bush himself told journalists that the two leaders would pursue their “strategic dialogue” at talks at the Bush family home in the United States in early July.
Putin said he had spoken on Wednesday to the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who had agreed that the Gabalin base rented by Russia could also be jointly used by the United States.
Russia says it is the target of the proposed US shield in Europe while the United States insists its system is to guard against an attack by
“We have an understanding of common threats but there are differences over the means for overcoming these threats,” Putin said after the talks, with Bush at his side.
The Russian leader insisted that the US and Russian military could detect any long-range missile test by Iran and would then have up to five years to set up a joint base before there was any major threat.
Putin argued that the Azerbaijan-based system would cover all of Europe rather than just parts of it and that any missile debris would fall in the ocean rather than on land in Europe.
He said locating the base in Azerbaijan would ease Russian concerns about a missile shield on its frontier in Europe.
But he insisted that the new system had to be “transparently” shared and that the strategic concerns of both sides had to be taken into account.
Putin warned the United States not to start building the system in Europe while negotiations with Moscow take place. “We hope these consultations will not serve as cover for some unilateral action,” Putin said.
Bush said that his Russian counterpart had made “some interesting suggestions” during the talks.
“As a result of our discussions, we both agreed to have a strategic dialogue, an opportunity to share ideas and concerns between our State Department, Defence Department and military people.”
The US president said there would have to be “a serious set of strategic discussions.”
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, whose country is at the centre of the political storm, said Putin had finally recognised that the concept of anti-missile defence is “useful.”
“The most important thing is his (Putin’s) will to seek agreement,” Topolanek said in a statement.
Putin’s foreign policy advisor, Sergei Prikhodko, said Moscow now hoped for “a positive response to our very far-reaching offer.”
According to Prikhodko, “it seemed to me this initiative was met with very great interest from
The US national security advisor said it was too early to predict where the talks with Russia would lead.
Referring to the reaction in Poland and the Czech Republic, he told reporters: “There are a lot of questions that they are going to have and a lot of questions that we are going to have.”
Hadley said Putin’s proposal had been a sign that both sides “wanted to de-escalate the tension on these issues.”