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Russia warms to missile talks with U.S.

MOSCOW — Russia's president seemed open Tuesday to discussing a U.S. plan to cancel an antimissile system in Europe if Russia helps prevent Iran from developing long-range weapons, a proposal that could fit the Kremlin's strategic objectives.

Such a deal would scrap a missile defense system proposed by the Bush administration that Moscow always has suspected was pointed at Russia's strategic capability, and at the same time blunt what the Kremlin may regard as a growing threat from Iran's nuclear ambitions.

While President Dmitry Medvedev didn't commit Russia to the idea, presented in a letter from President Obama three weeks ago, he sounded positive in his first public comments Tuesday after the letter's existence was reported by several publications.

"Our American partners are ready to discuss this problem, and that's already positive," he said at a news conference in Spain. "Several months ago we were hearing different signals."

Medvedev said Moscow shares U.S. concerns about Iran and nuclear proliferation. He denied, however, that Obama's letter laid out a straight deal — trading abandonment of the U.S. missile system for Russian pressure on Iran.

"No one is linking these issues to some kind of trade-offs, particularly on the Iranian issue," he said.

Cancellation of the U.S. plan to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a related radar installation in the Czech Republic would be celebrated by Moscow, which has repeatedly threatened to target its missiles on European targets if the system is built. But any U.S.-Russia agreement to work together could open a rift between Moscow and Tehran, a key market for Russian arms and technology.

. FAST FACTS

Message to Iran

The United States on Tuesday joined other major world powers in urging Iran to curb its nuclear program. Diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board meeting in Vienna said they could not remember such a joint statement from Washington, Moscow, Beijing and European powers. The statement urged Tehran to heed U.N. Security Council demands to limit its nuclear activities and thereby reduce fears it was trying to make atomic arms.

Russia warms to missile talks with U.S. 03/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 9:14pm]

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