The Azeri Option

President Bush and Putin appeared to come to some agreement over the placing of missile defense systems in East Europe. The United States has claimed that any missile defense system would be aimed at preventing attacks from “rouge nations” like Iran and North Korea. Russia has repeatedly rejected this explanation instead arguing that the systems were against a non existent threat and the American’s real intention as to further contain Russia.

Well it seems that despite the cooling relations between Russia and the US, Bush and Putin’s personal relationship seems to go a long way. According to news reports, the two presidents were able to come to some understanding during their hour long talks in the German Baltic resort town of Heiligendamm. Reports RIA Novosti:

The discussions lasted around one hour, and also involved White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. After the talks, Bush did not give a specific response to Putin’s proposal, but said his Russian counterpart had made some “interesting suggestions.” However, Hadley went a step further, saying Washington was willing to study the offer.

The Russian leader said: “We have thoroughly studied the U.S. [missile defense] proposals. We have our own ideas and I have explained them to the U.S. president.”

“The first idea is to jointly use a radar that Russia leases from Azerbaijan in Gabala,” he said, adding that the joint use of the Gabala radar would allow Russia to avoid aiming its missiles at Europe.

One wonders if anyone bothered to ask the Azeris about what they think of the idea. Given that the site Putin proposes is on a Russian base, I doubt there was or is much consulting to do.

The White House has yet to make any formal response to Putin’s suggestions, but it seems that Bush’s people took Putin’s statements that he would drop objections to the missile shield if radar systems were put in Azerbaijan as a “welcome surprise.” Given the intransigence on both sides, I have to say that I share that surprise.

As of now, I guess we will have to wait and see if the US overtures about US-Russian cooperation will bare any fruit.