US President Barack Obama continued his diplomatic exchange with Russia, this time saying he had not intended a "quid pro quo" offer where a US missile deal could be ditched if Moscow deterred Iran from nuclear proliferation.
AFP - US President Barack Obama said Tuesday he had sent a lengthy letter to his Russian counterpart in a bid to "reboot" ties and join forces on thorny issues like Iran, nuclear arms and missile defense.
Relations between Cold War foes Russia and the United States sank to their lowest level in years under the previous administration of president George W. Bush.
But in an early gesture from his government, Obama acknowledged he recently wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about a range of international issues.
In his first six weeks in office, "we've had a good exchange between ourselves and the Russians. I've said that we need to reset or reboot the relationship there," Obama said after White House talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
He said he sent a "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."
But he denied a report in The New York Times Tuesday that in exchange for Russia's help in deterring Iran from developing nuclear arms or long-range missiles, Washington would review plans to erect a US missile defense shield in Europe.
The Times report "didn't accurately characterize the letter," Obama said.
"The way it got characterized I think was as some sort of quid pro quo," he said.
"It was simply a statement of fact that I've made previously, which is that the missile defense program, to the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with not a Russian threat but an Iranian threat."
The revelations of Obama's letter to Medvedev come ahead of the first face-to-face talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, when the shield is to be discussed.
Administration officials took pains to stress there had been no change in the US position on the shield, due to be erected in Poland and the Czech Republic, and vehemently opposed by Moscow.
"I told the Russians a year ago that if there were no Iranian missile threat, that there would be no need for the third site in Europe -- the third missile defense site in Europe," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"I don't think at all that this is trying to put the Russians on the spot. I think it is trying to reopen a dialogue and say, we are open to talking with you about how we address this problem."
The State Department also confirmed that the letter merely restated the US position.
"You have all heard that position from this podium, you've heard it from the vice president and you've heard it from the secretary of state -- that missile defense is a way to protect ourselves and our allies against ... the nuclear capability we believe the Iranians are pursuing and that it is not anything directed against Russia," said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.
Another State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "The Obama administration will go forward with missile defense based on several criteria ... Does it work? Is it cost effective and is the Iranian threat constant? What is the threat?
"We could re-evaluate what our need for missile defense is. That is not a quid pro quo. That is a statement of fact."
Medvedev also seemed cool to any bargaining, saying it was "not productive" to link talks over the shield to Iran's suspected nuclear program.
"If we are to speak about some sort of exchange, the question has not been presented in such a way, because it is not productive," Medvedev said during a trip to Spain.
But he acknowledged: "Our American partners are ready to discuss this problem. This is already good."
Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told lawmakers that enlisting Moscow's help was vital to resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.
"Russia will be a critically important element of any talks. It ought to be a priority of the United States to gain Russian cooperation, as has been reported," Haas said.
Moscow, which enjoys close links to Tehran, has consistently opposed the shield, saying the move was directly aimed against Russia.
Iran has rejected repeated calls by the UN Security Council -- of which Russia is a permanent member -- to halt uranium enrichment. It maintains its nuclear program is merely for peaceful domestic energy purposes.
Date created : 2009-03-04