RUSSIA is open to overtures from the US on its proposed missile defence plan but not to a deal in which the US would shelve the plan in exchange for Russia’s help on Iran.
The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said he was responding to a report about a private letter he was given from President Barack Obama. In the letter Mr Obama said the proposed missile defence system would not be necessary if Moscow could help stop Iran developing long-range weapons and nuclear warheads.
Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev spoke of the letter on Tuesday as an opening to the possibility of co-operation on an issue that has divided their countries. “If we talk about some bargain or exchange, I can say that the issues were not raised in this way, because it’s counterproductive,” Mr Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid.
“What we are getting from our US partners shows at least one thing – that our US partners are ready to discuss the issue.
“That’s good, because only a few months ago we were getting different signals – that the decision has been made, there is nothing to talk about, that we will do everything as it has been decided.”
When reporters asked Mr Obama about the letter he said it was not “some sort of quid pro quo” but a statement of fact.
“What I said in the letter was that obviously to the extent that we are lessening Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons, that reduces the pressure for, or the need for, a missile defence system,” he said. Mr Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, championed the missile plan despite passionate Russian opposition.
Presenting further evidence of a shift in US foreign policy, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on Tuesday that Washington would send two senior officials to Syria for “preliminary conversations”.
She said she could not predict where the talks would lead. But: “We don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them, there has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies.”
US officials said Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top Middle East diplomat, would go to Damascus with Dan Shapiro of the White House’s national security council. Last week Mr Feltman met the Syrian ambassador to Washington, the highest-level contact between the countries since the start of the Obama Administration.