The Russian daily "Kommersant" reported today, citing "sources close to the White House," that U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev proposing a quid pro quo: Washington will scrap plans to build a missile defense system in Europe if Moscow helps the United States in curbing Iran's nuclear program.
The report, coming just days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in Geneva, naturally caught our attention.
A senior administration official told me that "a letter from President Obama was sent to President Medvedev, but we cannot comment on the specifics." The official reiterated the administration's position that it would pursue missile defense provided that it works, is cost effective, and depending on the nature of the threat.
The official added, however, that in general the United States is interested in reducing the level of the Iranian nuclear threat -- and one way to do this was through strategic diplomacy with Russia.
I have written here, here, and here, that missile defense is likely to become a bargaining chip as the Obama administration hits the reset button with Moscow.
As Steven Pifer, a former State Department official who is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me in a recent interview, the area the United States needs Russia's help most is with Iran:
We'll certainly be watching this very closely in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
-- Brian Whitmore