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Putin Offers to Join US Missile Defense Plan

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use a Soviet-built radar base in Azerbaijan as part of a U.S. plan for a missile defense system in Europe. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the Russian leader had previously characterized the U.S. plan as the start of a new arms race.

After weeks of increasingly harsh rhetoric from the Russian leader, President Putin made a surprise proposal to join the missile defense plan, offering a Soviet-built radar station in Azerbaijan to help protect against rogue missiles.

President Putin said he discussed the idea with the president of Azerbaijan Wednesday before making the offer to President Bush.

"The existing agreement with Azerbaijan makes it possible for us to do this. And the president of Azerbaijan stressed that he will be only too glad to contribute to the cause of global security and stability," Putin said.

President Putin spoke following talks with U.S. President George Bush on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany.

President Bush said using the Soviet-era base is an interesting idea, and both men committed to having their respective secretaries of state and defense meet to discuss the details.

The U.S. plan calls for building a radar base in the Czech Republic and installing interceptor missiles in Poland to guard against attacks from missiles from Iran.

U.S. National Security Adviser Steve Hadley says President Putin offered the Azerbaijani radar as part of the plan that would feed data in real-time to the United States and European allies.

President Putin said if that proposal is accepted, he will not follow through on threats to retarget Russian missiles against European sites in retaliation for the U.S. missile plan.

The Russian leader says he and the American president have an understanding about common threats but differ about how to best overcome them.

"I think that if we work together to overcome the threats we are discussing today, and if we take into account the concerns of each other, if we make this work transparent and if we provide for an equal access to the management of this system, then we will have no problems," he said.

It was an unexpected outcome to a highly anticipated meeting between the men as the Russian leader had grown increasingly adamant about opposing a plan that he said was upsetting the global balance of power.

President Bush says President Putin made clear his concerns about missile defense.

"As a result of these conversations, I expect there to be better understanding of the technologies involved and the opportunities to work together," he said.

President Bush said he looks forward to continuing those talks with President Putin at the Bush family compound in Maine early next month.

The G8 members are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. Leaders from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and a number of African countries also are attending the summit.