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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Military Mum After Radar Visit

ReutersSoldiers watching the Gabala station, which U.S. officials visited Tuesday.
GABALA, Azerbaijan -- U.S. military experts inspected a Russian-operated early warning radar station Tuesday but reserved judgment on Moscow's offer to use it as an alternative to Washington's planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Army Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, who led the U.S. delegation on a tour of the site, said the Pentagon was committed to cooperation with Russia on missile defense but did not say what form that might take.

"We believe that there are opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation to deal with the real and growing threat of ballistic missiles," he said in a prepared statement read out to reporters outside the Gabala radar facility.

"This was a technical-level visit to give our experts an opportunity to get a tour of the facility and a briefing on its capabilities. There were no formal negotiations or consultations," O'Reilly said.

O'Reilly, deputy director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said the findings from the inspection would be discussed at a meeting with Russian officials in Moscow on Oct. 10.

The visit to the Gabala radar site, a giant concrete block with a sloping face that stands on a hillside overlooking rolling countryside, was the first time U.S. military officers had been allowed into the facility.

Major General Alexander Yakushin, a senior Space Forces official, said the visit was productive.

"[It] will allow us to move from discussions to practical work," Yakushin said.

O'Reilly said that as part of a confidence-building program, Russian officers had accepted an invitation to observe a missile test in the United States next week.

Washington says the shield aims to protect Europe against missile attacks from what U.S. officials call "rogue states," such as Iran and North Korea. The plan has soured U.S. ties with Russia, which argues that it would upset the strategic balance between major powers and poses a threat to its own security.

Russia says Gabala can provide the U.S. military with early warning of any missile launches from the Middle East, removing the need for Washington to place elements of its planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gabala, among the world's biggest radar stations, has a 6,000-kilometer range and scans the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and most of North Africa. Russia pays Azerbaijan $7 million a year to rent the station, 230 kilometers north of Baku.

U.S. President George W. Bush said the Russian offer to share early warning data from Gabala, made personally by Putin, was "innovative." But U.S. officials have made it clear it could not be a substitute for the missile shield in Europe.