Obama Denies Letter to Russia Contained Any 'Quid Pro Quo'

Once-secret letter from Obama on Iran is the talk of official Washington.

ByABC News
March 3, 2009, 1:10 PM

Mar. 3, 2009— -- President Obama acknowledged today that he sent a secret letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that discussed America's missile defense shield, but denied reports that it suggested a "quid pro quo" that would scrap the plan in exchange for Russian help in blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

It was a "very lengthy letter talking about a whole range of issues, from nuclear proliferation to how are we going to deal with a set of common security concerns along the Afghan border and terrorism. And what I said in the letter is the same thing that I've said publicly, which is that the missile defense that we have talked about deploying is directed towards not Russia, but Iran," Obama said during a photo opportunity with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "That has always been the concern, that you had potentially a missile from Iran that threatened either the United States or Europe."

Earlier, however, U.S. officials with knowledge of the letter's content confirmed to ABC News a story first reported in the New York Times that Obama suggested the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe would be unnecessary if international efforts, including Russia's, ensured that Iran would not acquire nuclear weapons.

The letter was delivered to Moscow in early February by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns.

Obama was vague about the response from Russia, saying that the administration has had a good exchange with the Russians and that the two countries "have areas of common concern."

The U.S. State Department would not confirm the letter contained an offer for Moscow, and said that it only outlined the U.S. position that the missile system is aimed at Iran and not Russia.

"The president did send a letter. And it was to explain our position on missile defense," said State Department acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid.

"I am not divulging the contents of the letter at all, and nor am I affirming the story that's out there in the media that there's some sort of grand bargain going on here. We explained clearly our position that missile defense is in response to the Iranian threat that we perceive," Duguid added.

U.S. officials, however, insist the letter did say the missile shield plans would not be pursued if Iran's nuclear ambitions are curbed.

"The letter addressed a broad range of issues including the issue of missile defense as it relates to Iran," an 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."

According to the Interfax News Agency, Medvedev told reporters at a press conference in Madrid today that "No one links these issues to any exchange, especially on the Iran issue. We are working very closely with our U.S. colleagues on the issue of Iran's nuclear program."

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova also confirmed the letter had been received, but said it contained no "specific proposals."

"Obama's letter contains various proposals and assessments of the current situation," she said, according to Interfax. "But the message did not contain any specific proposals or mutually binding initiatives."