/ 3 March 2009

Obama looks to Russia for help on Iran

Russia’s president has his first chance to comment on reports he received a secret letter from United States President Barack Obama seeking help to disarm Iran at a news conference on Tuesday, wrapping up a two-day visit to Spain.

The letter to Dmitry Medvedev, which the New York Times reported was hand-delivered three weeks ago, suggested the US would not need to build a controversial missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic if Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon were halted.

Medvedev is scheduled to hold a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. It will be the first opportunity Medvedev has to publicly comment on the report.

Russia, a close ally of Iran, has been staunchly opposed to the missile defence system. While saying it does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, Moscow has failed to back Washington’s tough approach to the Islamic state.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to hold talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Geneva on Friday in the highest-level meeting between the two nations since Obama took office.

The Russian daily Kommersant, citing unnamed sources in Washington, reported on Monday that the Obama administration’s letter to Medvedev touched on five key points: arms control, Afghanistan, Iran, a new European security framework and the global economic crisis.

”The letter states that resolution of the Iran problem would fully eliminate the need to base missile defence elements in Europe,” Kommersant reported. ”Therefore, if Moscow and Washington enter talks with Iran with a united front, then it might be possible to forget about [the missile defence issue].”

The newspaper said it was unlikely the meeting between Clinton and Lavrov would resolve the issue, but there were hopes for substantive talks between Obama and Medvedev at a G-20 meeting in London in April.

Kommersant also said Medvedev had invited Obama to Moscow, and the US leader assented, though no dates had been agreed upon.

Medvedev was in Spain along with a group of Russian business leaders. He met with King Juan Carlos on Monday, and was also meeting with Zapatero.

Spain’s government said discussions were focusing on Russia’s relations with the European Union and Nato and other issues such as the international financial crisis and bilateral ties.

Medvedev and Zapatero were also signing an agreement allowing Spain to transport military material and personnel through Russian territory to its troops stationed in Afghanistan. — Sapa-AP