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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Experts to Tour Gabala Station

U.S. military experts will visit the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan on Tuesday to study the feasibility of incorporating the Russian-run facility into a shield, an army official said over the weekend.

The Americans will hold technical discussions with their Russian and Azeri counterparts, Major General Alexander Yakushin, the first deputy head of the Space Forces, told reporters Saturday. The meeting is the most concrete step yet toward implementing a June proposal made by President Vladimir Putin.

"On Sept. 18, we will move from words to concrete actions," Yakushin said.

In a surprise move three months ago, Putin said the United States could use the Gabala facility, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, instead of new installations that the United States wants to build in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Washington's plans to put those installations in Eastern Europe have angered Moscow, which believes they are directed against Russia. U.S. officials said it was directed against Iran.

Yakushin dismissed that argument as "unconvincing" on Saturday and said Gabala was ideal for monitoring Iranian missile launches.

Some U.S. officials have said the Soviet-built facility is out of date and cannot be used with the missile shield. But Russia is willing to modernize the facility in consultation with the United States if the two sides can reach an agreement, Yakushin said.

The general said the U.S. side seemed "extremely interested" in the Russian proposal, judging by the makeup of the team going to Gabala.

The results of Tuesday's trilateral talks will set the stage for a meeting between Russia's foreign minister and defense minister and their U.S. counterparts next month, Yakushin said.