Asks Russia For Help In Quelling Iranian Threat
Senior White House staffers tell The Washington Post that
President Obama sent a letter recently to Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev, aimed at improving relations between the two countries.
Among the ideas reportedly put forth was a significant concession
on the hot-button topic of missile defense.
Sent in mid-February, Obama's letter "covered a number of
topics," according to one administration official, "including the
issue of missile defense and how it relates to the Iranian threat."
That has been a bone of contention for the past several years, with
Russian officials angered by US plans for a defensive missile base
in Poland and a related early-warning radar system in the Czech
The staffer indicated that for the US to pull back its plans for
a missile shield, Russia would have to downplay its support of the
government of Tehran. While not a full-fledged ally per se, Russia
has been supportive of Iranian plans to build nuclear reactors for
the alleged purpose of producing cheap electricity.
US officials counter Iran wants nuclear weapons capabilities, as
well... and they want Russia to aid in eliminating the offensive
nuclear threat Iran poses to US -- and Russian -- interests in
strong diplomacy with Russia and our other partners, we can reduce
or eliminate that threat, it obviously shapes the way at which we
look at missile defense," said Undersecretary of State William J.
Burns during a visit to Russia two weeks ago. "We are also open to
the possibility of cooperation with Russia and with our NATO
partners on new missile defense configurations which can take
advantage of assets which each of us have."
That statement built on
earlier comments by Defense Secretary Robert M.
Gates, who said last month "I told the Russians a year
ago that if there were no Iranian missile program, there would be
no need for the missile sites." Gates -- who also served in his
current role during the last two years of the Bush administration,
which spearheaded deployment of missiles in Europe -- is a key
proponent of the missile shield.
Medvedev reportedly expressed optimism with Obama's concilatory
approach. "We have already received such messages from our American
colleagues," Medvedev was quoted as saying by Spanish media Sunday.
"I expect those messages to take the form of specific proposals. I
hope that during my first meeting with Mr. Obama, President of the
United States, we shall be able to discuss" the issue.
The Russian president added he believed discussions could be
held on matters such as missile defense "in a more inventive and
partnership-like" manner than what was accomplished under the Bush
On Tuesday, President Obama downplayed the letter, stating he
did not offer Russia a deal in exchange for standing down US plans
for missile batteries in former Soviet states.