(by Joseph Curl, WashingtonTimes.com) HEILIGENDAMM, Germany — Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday toned down his opposition to a U.S. plan to install a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, saying that if the U.S. instead chose a site in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, he would not retarget missiles toward Europe.
At the annual Group of Eight meeting on the Baltic Sea, leaders — including President Bush — also agreed to call for substantial global emissions reductions to fight global warming and cited a goal of a 50 percent cut by 2050.
In their first one-on-one meeting since the furor erupted last month, Mr. Bush and the Russian president talked for an hour about the U.S. plan to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and deploy 10 missiles in Poland. For weeks, Mr. Putin ramped up the rhetoric, saying Mr. Bush had begun another Cold War and threatening to aim Russia’s missiles at sites across Europe.
But yesterday, both presidents pulled back from the escalating dispute, with each seeking a middle ground. Mr. Putin’s proposal caught U.S. officials off guard, prompting at least one senior presidential aide to suspect that the Kremlin leader had always planned to offer a compromise that would benefit him.
Throughout the public spat, Mr. Bush repeatedly offered Russia access to the sites, saying that the missile-defense system was intended to protect NATO nations from a rogue state such as Iran. Yesterday, Mr. Putin took him up on the offer.
“The first proposal is to use the radar station rented by us in Azerbaijan which is entitled Gabala,” Mr. Putin said after his meeting with Mr. Bush.
“Yesterday, I had a conversation of this matter with the president of Azerbaijan. The existing agreement with Azerbaijan makes it possible for us to do this. And the president of Azerbaijan stressed that he will be only glad to contribute to the cause of global security and stability.
“We can do this automatically, and hence the whole system which is being built as a result will cover not only part of Europe but the entire Europe without an exception,” Mr. Putin said. “This would also … allow us not to redirect our rockets [to targets in Europe] and, on the contrary, allow us to create conditions for joint work.”
Mr. Bush called the idea one of several “interesting suggestions” offered by Mr. Putin.
“As a result of our discussions, we both agreed to have a strategic dialogue, an opportunity to share ideas and concerns,” Mr. Bush said. “This is a serious issue and we want to make sure that we all understand each other’s positions very clearly. As a result of these conversations, I expect there to be better understanding of the technologies involved and the opportunities to work together.”
A Kremlin spokesman said last night that Mr. Putin’s suggestion of using a Russian-operated radar in Azerbaijan would remove any need for a U.S. radar in the Czech Republic or anywhere in eastern Europe. But U.S. officials who briefed reporters after the presidents’ meeting did not say whether accepting the Azerbaijan offer would mean canceling the installation in the Czech Republic and Poland.
One senior Bush aide said the proposal would require careful scrutiny because of the Kremlin’s influence over Azerbaijan and because the Russian military operates the radar system. The aide said that one concern is that Moscow may later seek to put restraints on the U.S. plan.
Mr. Putin did set out a few caveats, urging Mr. Bush to take Russia’s concerns into account, and asking that he give all sides “equal access” to the system and make its installation and operation transparent.
“Then we will have no problem,” the Russian leader said.
White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters that Mr. Putin’s idea of using the Soviet-era radar system, which Russia now leases, was “a bold proposal.” U.S. officials would study the offer and discuss it with the Russians.
“I think President Putin wanted to de-escalate the tensions a little bit on this issue, and I think it was a useful thing that he did,” he said, implying that the Kremlin had backed down first.
On climate change, the G-8 leaders agreed that global emissions reductions are needed, calling for a 50 percent cut by 2050. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the target “very great progress and an excellent result,” she did not succeed in her goal of persuading Mr. Bush to agree to mandatory cuts.
As is often the case, the language of the declaration had few mandatory and concrete provisions. It called for the eight countries, the world’s leading industrial powers, to “seriously consider” following the European Union, Japan and Canada in seeking to halve emissions by 2050.
Mr. Hadley said the ideas in the G-8 declaration were in the proposal the president issued last week.
“The president made clear last week that he accepted the principle of a long-term goal,” he said. “I think it’s very consistent with some ideas that the president had last week, but it was also consistent with ideas that have been advanced by others.”
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. a) What U.S. defense plan did Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly oppose over the past week?
b) Why did he oppose the plan?
2. How did President Bush respond to President Putin’s accusation and threat?
3. What proposal did President Putin make yesterday, saying that if the U.S. accepted it, he would not retarget Russian missiles toward Europe? (answer found in para. #’s 1, 6, 13)
4. How did President Bush respond to Mr. Putin’s proposal?
5. What concern would the U.S. have about the Russian proposal? (answer found in para. 12)
6. Mr. Putin said that the president of Azerbaijan stressed that he will be glad to contribute to the cause of global security and stability. What other reason(s) might the president of Azerbaijan have for accepting the plan?
7. One presidential aide thinks that President Putin had always planned to offer a compromise that would benefit him. a) Do you think the U.S. government will accept a plan that does not benefit us? Explain your answer.
b) What do you think of President Putin’s proposal?
c) A Kremlin (the Russian equivalent of our White House) official said that the U.S. wouldn’t need to install anything in Poland and the Czech Republic if using the radar in Azerbaijan. U.S. officials say accepting the Azerbaijan offer wouldn’t mean canceling the plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. What do you think we should do? Why?
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