President Obama Signals to Russia Missile Defense Shield Can Vanish If Iran Doesn’t Get Nukes

By Caitlin Taylor

Mar 3, 2009 11:38am

An administration official tells ABC News that in Moscow sometime on or around February 11, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns delivered a letter from President Obama to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that addressed the missile defense program and Iran’s push for nuclear weapons.

Specifically, President Obama conveyed that the U.S. would be willing to scrap plans for a missile defense system, which the Russian government has long opposed, if Russia works with the U.S. to discourage Iran from building nuclear weapons.

"The letter addressed a broad range of issues including the issue of missile defense as it relates to Iran," the official tells ABC News. "The missile defense deployment is in response to an Iranian threat. If the Iranian threat is removed there is no longer a need for the deployment of the Missile defense system."

The letter was first reported by the New York Times

The official insisted that the letter did not offer a "deal" or "quid pro quo," but was rather a simple statement of fact: "if they can help us, cooperate with us, to eliminate that threat from Iran," there will be no need to build the missile defense system. "It was a statement that reflects the reality that missile defense is a response to the Iranian threat."

The U.S. has been planning to build in the Czech Republic a high-tech radar to detect missiles, with 10 interceptor missiles to be deployed in Poland. Russia had proposed deploying missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave as retaliation.

But shortly after President Obama was elected, Russian leaders began sending signals that they were eager to end the stand-off.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, "We hope that the new leadership of the United States will be more constructive, and will help us come to a mutually acceptable solution," adding that the plan for missiles in Kaliningrad would "disappear" if the US dropped its plans. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru, Medvedev said there were "chances" for a resolution to the conflict, and that "dialogue is possible … A change of position is possible."

Burns last month was quoted saying that the US and Russia "share our common interest in ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a nuclear weapons potential. If through 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. And we are also open to the possibility of cooperation with Russia, with our NATO partners on new missile defense configurations which can take advantage of assets that each of us has."

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a NATO meeting in Poland that he’d "told the Russians a year ago that if there were no Iranian missile program, there would be no need for the missile sites…My hope is that now, with the new administration, the prospects for that kind of cooperation might have improved"

Medvedev on Sunday according to the state news agency, RIA Novostiat, said “We have received signals from our American colleagues. I expect those signals will turn into specific proposals. I hope to discuss the issue, which is extremely important for Europe, with President Barack Obama.”

Obama and Medvedev will meet for the first time in London on April 2.

– jpt

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