Move missile shield to Azerbaijan, Putin tells Bush
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proposed the United States shift the planned site of itsmissile shieldto the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
Putin, who is strongly opposed to the American plan to put radar and rocket installationsin the Czech Republic and Poland, made the suggestion during a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the Group of Eight summit in Germany.
The missile defence plan has sparked a return to Cold War-style rhetoric between Washington and Moscow.
Bush has called the shield a legitimate response to a threat from Iran. Putin said if the U.S. puts ballistic defence systems onRussia's doorstep, he'll pointmissiles toward European cities.
Putin said Thursday he would drop his missile threat if Bush considered putting the system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, where Russia leases a radar station.
The Russian leader spelled out what he said are the benefits of an Azerbaijan-based system:itwould cover all of Europe rather than just part of it,and destroyed missile debris would fall in the ocean rather than on land.
Located on the Caspian Sea between southern Russia and northern Iran, Azerbaijan is a major world oil supplier.
White House security adviser Steve Hadley, who is at the summit with Bush, said the president considered it an "interesting proposal" and would ask for expert advice.
At a joint news conference following their meeting, Bush and Putin said they would further explore the issue during two days of talks in July in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"He is concerned that a missile defence system is not an act that a friend would do,'' Bush said. "We both agreed to have a strategic dialogue, an opportunity to share ideas and concerns'' between diplomatic and military officials.
Missile shield nothing 'to be hyperventilating about'
Putin said he hoped Bush wouldn't push ahead with building the system during their talks.
"We hope these consultations will not serve as cover for some unilateral action," Putin said.
Bush has downplayed Putin's concerns about the missile defence system, saying the shield is not an issue "to be hyperventilating about."
"A missile defence system cannot stop multi-launch regimes" such as Russia, Bush said Thursday aftera meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush also added that he wished to speak to Putin about "troubling implications for democratic development" in Russia.
Before Blair arrived in Germany for the meeting of the world's eight richest industrialized nations, he also brought up similar themes, saying "a personal relationship between Europe and Russia is important, but [that] it will only be a sustainable relationship if it's based on those shared values."
For the second day in a row, protesters continued to block main access roads to the summit venue on the Baltic Sea in northern Germany.
On Thursday, hundreds of German police dragged the demonstrators out of the way, warningthem they would be subject to arrest if they continued trying to block routes.
As well, Greenpeace activists in a speedboat broke through a security cordon in the Baltic Sea, just off the shore of the resort town where the G8 summit was being held. A police boatchased the activists, eventually ramming them and arresting all on board.
Few details revealed about Harper-Putin meeting
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also held a private meeting with Putin Thursday.
Harper gave reporters few details after the meeting ended, but said he expressed his concern to Putin about the "democratic slide backwards" he fears Russia is taking.
"We are concerned about the developments in Russia," Harper told reporters in Germany.
He did not elaborate on his specific concerns, but the Prime Minister's Office has said Harper is worriedabout human rights violations in Russia.
Harper said Putin pointed out in their meeting that Canada too has been criticized for various humanitarian reasons.
"I told him, 'That's fine, as long as we accept the legitimacy of that criticism.'"
With files from the Associated Press