Obama Offered Deal to Russia in Secret Letter
- Expect a lot of this to go on with Russia, China...Muslim states.
March 3, 2009
Obama Offered Deal to Russia in Secret Letter
dex.html?inline=nyt-per> PETER BAKER
New York Times
ndex.html?inline=nyt-per> President Obama sent a secret letter to
ssiaandtheformersovietunion/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> Russia's president
last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense
system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop
an/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> Iran from developing long-range weapons,
American officials said Monday.
The letter to President
dev/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Dmitri A. Medvedev was hand-delivered in
Moscow by top administration officials three weeks ago. It said the United
States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been
vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush
administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and
The officials who described the contents of the message requested anonymity
because it has not been made public. While they said it did not offer a
direct quid pro quo, the letter was intended to give Moscow an incentive to
join the United States in a common front against Iran. Russia's military,
diplomatic and commercial ties to Tehran give it some influence there, but
it has often resisted Washington's hard line against Iran.
"It's almost saying to them, put up or shut up," said a senior
administration official. "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."
On Tuesday, a press secretary for Dmitri A. Medvedev told the Interfax news
agency that the letter did not contain any "specific proposals or mutually
Natalya Timakova said the letter was a reply to one sent by Mr. Medvedev
shortly after Mr. Obama was elected.
"Medvedev appreciated the promptness of the reply and the positive spirit of
the message," Ms. Timakova said. "Obama's letter contains various proposals
and assessments of the current situation. But the message did not contain
any specific proposals or mutually binding initiatives."
She said Mr. Medvedev perceives the development of Russian-American
relations as "exceptionally positive," and hopes details can be fleshed out
at a meeting on Friday in Geneva between Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov
and Secretary of State
_clinton/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev will meet for the first time on April 2 in
London, officials said Monday.
Mr. Obama's letter, sent in response to one he received from Mr. Medvedev
shortly after Mr. Obama's inauguration, is part of an effort to "press the
reset button" on Russian-American relations, as Vice President
den/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Joseph R. Biden Jr. put it last month,
officials in Washington said. Among other things, the letter discussed talks
to extend a strategic arms treaty expiring this year and cooperation in
opening supply routes to Afghanistan.
The plan to build a high-tech radar facility in the Czech Republic and
deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland - a part of the world that Russia
once considered its sphere of influence - was a top priority for President
index.html?inline=nyt-per> George W. Bush to deter Iran in case it developed
a nuclear warhead to fit atop its long-range missiles. Mr. Bush never
accepted a Moscow proposal to install part of the missile defense system on
its territory and jointly operate it so it could not be used against Russia.
Now the Obama administration appears to be reconsidering that idea, although
it is not clear if it would want to put part of the system on Russian soil
where it could be flipped on or off by Russians. Mr. Obama has been lukewarm
on missile defense, saying he supports it only if it can be proved
technically effective and affordable.
Mr. Bush also emphasized the linkage between the Iranian threat and missile
defense, but Mr. Obama's overture reformulates it in a way intended to
appeal to the Russians, who long ago soured on the Bush administration.
Officials have been hinting at the possibility of an agreement in recent
weeks, and Mr. Obama's proposal was reported on Monday by a Moscow
"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," Under Secretary of State William J. Burns said
about the Iranian threat in an interview with the Russian news agency
Interfax while in Moscow last month delivering Mr. Obama's letter.
tlantic_treaty_organization/index.html?inline=nyt-org> NATO meeting in
Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 20, Defense Secretary
/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Robert M. Gates said, "I told the Russians a
year ago that if there were no Iranian missile program, there would be no
need for the missile sites." Mr. Obama's inauguration, he added, offered the
chance for a fresh start. "My hope is that now, with the new administration,
the prospects for that kind of cooperation might have improved," he said.
The idea has distressed Poland and the Czech Republic, where leaders
invested political capital in signing missile defense cooperation treaties
with the United States despite domestic opposition. If the United States
were to slow or halt deployment of the systems, Warsaw and Prague might
insist on other incentives.
For example, the deal with Poland included a side agreement that an American
Patriot air defense battery would be moved from Germany to Poland, where it
would be operated by a crew of about 100 American service members. The
administration might have to proceed with that to reassure Warsaw.
Missile defense has flavored Mr. Obama's relationship with Russia from the
day after his election, when Mr. Medvedev threatened to point missiles at
Europe if the system proceeded. Mr. Medvedev later backed off that threat
and it seems that Moscow is taking seriously the idea floated in Mr. Obama's
letter. Kommersant, the Moscow newspaper, on Monday called it a "sensational
Mr. Medvedev said Sunday that he believed the Obama administration would be
open to cooperation on missile defense.
"We have already received such signals from our American colleagues," he
said in an interview posted on the Kremlin Web site. "I expect that these
signals will turn into concrete proposals. I hope to discuss this issue of
great importance for Europe during my first meeting with President
ndex.html?inline=nyt-per> Barack Obama."
David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, and
Michael Schwirtz and Ellen Barry from Moscow.
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