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Washington will not abandon its anti-ballistic missile plans

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - In the near future, Europe may host two anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, one operated exclusively by the United States and the other a joint project involving America, Russia and other European countries.

According to some experts, the initiatives advanced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who proposed joint use of the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan and a radar in southern Russia, have not convinced the Untied States to revise its plans to deploy ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Washington has not rejected Putin's proposals outright, but is trying to adapt them to its strategic defense program without fundamentally changing the program itself.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs, recently said the U.S. did not accept Gabala as a substitute for the plans it was pursuing with its Czech and Polish allies. But it is looking forward to "constructive dialogue" during bilateral expert-level consultations with Moscow about the possible integration of the Gabala site.

Moscow will not be happy because the proposal Putin made to President George W. Bush at the G8 summit in Germany called for the joint use of the Gabala radar as a substitute for elements of a U.S. ABM system in the two East European countries.

Later, the Russian president made an even more significant proposal. He said at a news conference in Kennebunkport, Maine: "The number of parties to this consultation could be expanded through the European countries who are interested in resolving the issue. And the idea is to achieve this through the forum of the Russia-NATO Council."

He also proposed establishing "an information exchange center in Moscow" involving the joint use of the radar that is being built near Armavir in southern Russia. "A similar center could be established in one of the European capitals, in particular, in Brussels, for example," Putin added.

Washington has not yet formulated its response to these proposals, and it is not clear if it is pondering them or has already decided to soft-pedal the issue. American experts have noted that there is a lot of interest among European countries in working on a regional ABM system in the NATO-Russian Council, but also warned about the complexity of the project.

The Russian president's initiatives, if accepted, would internationalize the ABM project. This would remove a great deal of concerns and mutual suspicion, but it would also entail the exchange of technologies. Washington is probably not happy about the latter part, as it has quite a few ABM technologies it does not want to share.

The United States is unlikely to bury the idea of an ABM deployment site in Europe. While experts hold consultations and foreign and defense ministers discuss relevant issues, the U.S. will start deploying its ABM elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

As Rice said, the U.S. needs "to continue to move forward with the Czech Republic and with Poland."

She added, though: "But we do agree that this could be an area for which U.S.-Russian cooperation could make a gigantic leap forward." These words were not an attempt to sweeten the pill.

It looks as if Washington intends to work on two projects simultaneously, one a purely American ABM system, and the other a joint regional one.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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