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Iran: Tehran Says It Has Kremlin Assurance It Won't Share Radar With U.S.

Qabala radar station (epa) June 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Iranian Foreign Ministry says it has received assurances that Moscow willl not let the United States share a Russian radar facility in Azerbaijan as part of a missile shield against Iran -- despite an offer by President Vladimir Putin to U.S. President George W. Bush to do exactly that.

The ministry says Russia has no intention of allowing the Americans to use the radar base. Was Putin bluffing when he made the offer to the United States?

Surprise Announcement

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini's comments came as a surprise to journalists attending the June 17 news conference in Tehran.

It raises the possibility that the Russian offer was bogus and that Putin was merely maneuvering to occupy the high ground in the dispute over the antimissile system.

Hosseini said that Russian officials have privately assured Iran that the Kremlin will not let the United States use a radar base at Qabala (Gabala), Azerbaijan, as part of an antimissile system which the Americans are planning to place in Central Europe.

This assertion -- if true -- runs directly counter to an offer made publicly by Putin to Bush at the G8 summit in Germany earlier this month.

Putin said that instead of developing an entirely new radar station in the Czech Republic, the United States could use the powerful Russian facility at Qabala.

The radar is meant to be part of a U.S. antimissile shield designed to intercept Iranian or North Korean missiles fired at Europe or the United States. However, Moscow has strongly objected to the Czech base, saying it would be able also to track Russian missiles.

The Putin offer of a joint base would enable the United States to watch Iran, while Russian personnel at the site could ensure that they did not also monitor Russian missile activity.

Is Putin's Offer Serious...

But senior Iran analyst Peter Lehr says he doesn't believe Putin's offer was serious. Lehr, of the Iranian Studies Department of St. Andrews University in Scotland, points out the complication of having non-NATO personnel responsible for the security of NATO countries.

"Imagine this station is in Azerbaijan, with Azerbaijani and Russian crew operating there, together with Americans," he said. "Well, that's an organizational nightmare."

American officials have already downplayed the offer on security grounds and indicated that Washington will proceed with plans to build the Czech facility.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a NATO news conference in Brussels after meeting Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, made that clear.

"I was very explicit in the meeting that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, and that we intend to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar, in the Czech Republic," he said.

...Or A Hoax?

Russia is not confirming the Iranian version of events. But it raises the possibility that the Russian offer was bogus and that Putin was merely maneuvering to occupy the high ground in the dispute over the antimissile system.

Anticipating a U.S. rejection of his offer, Putin could say that Russia had gone out of its way to offer a solution but that Washington had not been willing to accept it.

Vafa Quluzade, a former national security adviser in Azerbaijan, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on June 7 that he felt Russia was perpetrating a hoax.

"Putin proposed it to the United States knowing that the United States is not interested in establishing [those] kinds of radar systems in Azerbaijan," he said.

Iran does not currently have a missile capable of reaching the United States. Some experts believe it's longest range missile, the Shahab-3, can travel about 1,300 kilometers and could reach some parts of Eastern and Southern Europe as well as southern Russia.

Iran: Missiles And More

Iran: Missiles And More

Iran tests its Shahab-3 medium-range missile in November 2006 (AFP)

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