Obama reconsidering missile-defence plan

March 4th, 2009 - 5:01 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, March 4 (DPA) US President Barack Obama said Tuesday preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon would diminish the need for the US to base a missile-defence system in Eastern Europe.
Obama commented on the planned deployment after The New York Times reported that he sent a secret letter to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev conveying his position. But Obama downplayed suggestions that he would give up the system in return for a stronger commitment from Russia in confronting Iran.

“What I said in the letter was that, obviously, to the extent that we are lessening Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons, then that reduces the pressure for - or the need for a missile-defence system,” Obama said at a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the White House.

“The missile defense that we have talked about deploying is directed towards not Russia, but Iran,” he added. “That has always been the concern, that you had potentially a missile from Iran that threatened either the United States or Europe.”

Medvedev vehemently opposes the US plans, worked out during the Bush administration, to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic. Moscow views the deployment as a threat, while Washington maintains the system is too small to interfere with Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

Medvedev, commenting on the letter during a visit to Madrid, signalled that his government is ready to hold dialogue with the United States about missile defence but rejected any connections to Iran.

If the Obama administration showed “common sense” in proposing a “shield against all types of threats,” and reconsidered its plans of a missile defence system that could target Russia, Moscow would be prepared to negotiate, Medvedev said.

The dispute over missile defence has brought relations between the two countries to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Medvedev, during a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said he welcomed the “positive signals” from Obama on improving relations.

Obama said he wants to “reboot” relations with the Kremlin and better cooperate on fighting terrorism and halting the spread of nuclear material.

The offer was described in The New York Times report as giving Russia an incentive to help the US and other Western powers achieve a halt to any Iranian programmes that could lead to military nuclear capabilities and long-range delivery systems for warheads. If the Iranian threat were removed, the US could forego the missile defence system, the letter, sent three weeks ago, was described as saying.

The Times quoted a senior administration official as saying: “It’s almost saying to them, put up or shut up. It’s not that the Russians get to say, ‘We’ll try and therefore you have to suspend.’ It says the threat has to go away.”

The topic is expected to be the focus of a meeting in Geneva on Friday between Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, ahead of an Obama-Medvedev meeting on on April 2 in London. The Pentagon has previously said the system could be place in 2013, but Obama could delay that timeframe.

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