New sites named for missile defense

Bush gets an OK from Poland as Putin suggests Turkey, Iraq or the open sea

June 09, 2007|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME -- As President Bush received an endorsement yesterday in Poland for placing missile interceptors there, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin presented a second alternative in two days for where the U.S. should install the missile-defense system.

The Russian president, speaking at a news conference at the end of Group of Eight summit, said the interceptors could be located in Turkey, or perhaps in Iraq or at sea. A day earlier, he caught U.S. officials by surprise in suggesting that an existing Russian-run radar system in Azerbaijan be used to protect Europe from a possible attack by Iran. Bush has been planning to build a radar facility in the Czech Republic.

The missile defense debate has colored the U.S.-Russian relationship for weeks, with Putin contending that the system envisaged by Washington would be considered a threat to Russia and could force him to retarget Russian missiles toward Europe.

The United States has said that the system would remain defensive in nature and would be intended only to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack of still-to-be-developed long-range missiles.

Bush, spending less than four hours in Poland, showed no sign of wavering from his plan to base 10 interceptors in Poland. Polish President Lech Kaczynski, answering one of Putin's original complaints about the weapon, said the system, to be targeted at Iran, would have "no aggressive" element and, rather, would protect Europe.

"The Russian Federation can feel totally safe," Kaczynski said, with Bush at his side.

On a day in which a stomach ailment forced him to skip the morning summit meetings, Bush traversed the European continent from north to south before ending the day here.

Bush, in Poland, said that "the system we have proposed is not directed at Russia. We would welcome Russian cooperation."

After meeting with Bush, Putin told reporters that a radar system in Azerbaijan would allow the destruction of missiles over open water.

U.S. officials said only that it was a "bold" proposal and that they would study it.

Bush and Putin, who met for 45 minutes at the summit in the eastern German resort of Heiligendamm on the Baltic Sea, are planning to get together for two days of talks at the beginning of July at Bush's father's compound at Kennebunkport, Maine.

Arriving in Rome for a 32-hour visit, Bush was greeted by headlines in the leftist newspaper Liberio that read "Welcome Bush," in English, and then in Italian: "But Prodi & Co. Hate You." The reference was to Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Italians overwhelmingly oppose the war in Iraq, and Prodi has moved Italy from the staunch pro-American policies of his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

The threat of possibly violent demonstrations and other security concerns forced Bush to abandon plans to visit a church today in the Trastavere neighborhood and the headquarters of the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay organization involved in peace negotiations and humanitarian efforts in Africa.

James Gerstenzang wrotes for the Los Angeles Times.

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