Russia Says it Wants to Keep Radar in Azerbaijan

BAKU (AP)–Russia wants to extend its lease of a Soviet-built military radar in Azerbaijan after a current lease agreement ends, the Russian foreign minister said Thursday.

Sergey Lavrov said on a trip to Azerbaijan that Russia would like to continue using the early-warning radar in Gabala after the lease expires in 2012.

He said Russia’s proposal to the U.S. to jointly use the facility to monitor missile threats remains on the table. Moscow cast the 2007 proposal as an alternative to the U.S. plans to locate missile defense sites in Eastern Europe, a plan Russia has fiercely opposed.

The administration of former president George W. Bush said the Gabala facility was too old to defending against a threat from Iran–Washington’s main argument for building the European system. U.S. officials said that, even if they were to use the Russian radar, it would not replace the planned U.S. missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The missile defense dispute strained Russia-U.S. ties, and Barack Obama’s election raised Moscow’s hopes that he would scrap the shield.

Obama has not said how he intends to proceed, but he has stressed the system must be cost-effective and proven, and that it should not divert resources from other national security priorities. He also said he has told Russia that curbing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would lessen the need for a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

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