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A Quid Pro Quo with Russia on Iran Missiles?

According to a great story from The New York Times’ Peter Baker, last month Obama administration envoys went to Moscow — apparently as part of this trip — and secretly approached President Dmitri Medvedev with something approaching a quid pro quo: the United States will stop with a ballistic missile shield in eastern Europe if Russia halt aid to Iran on ballistic missile development. This is an innovative inversion of a Bush administration approach to Iran — Russia was helping Iran on the missile development; so the United States would deploy the missile defenses, something the Russians consider provocative. Now Obama has flipped it:

“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.

Attending a NATO meeting in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 20, Defense Secretary 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.

According to The Times, a Russian response could come as early as Friday, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

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