WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama has written to his Russian counterpart about the relationship between US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe and the Iranian "threat," a senior US official said on Tuesday.
But the overture was rebuffed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said in Spain Tuesday that it was "not productive" to link talks over a US missile defense system in Europe with Iran's suspected nuclear program as proposed by Washington.
"If we are to speak about some sort of exchange, the question has not been presented in such a way, because it is not productive ," Medvedev said when asked about a letter US President Barack Obama wrote to him regarding the two issues.
"Our American partners are ready to discuss this problem," the Russian leader added at a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "This is already good."
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Obama suggested in a secret letter to Medvedev that he would back off deployment of the missile defense shield if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range missiles.
Confirming that Obama sent a letter to Medvedev, a White House official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the missive covered "a broad range of topics including missile defense and how it relates to the Iranian threat."
The official offered no further details of the letter, or when it was sent.
But the Times said the letter was delivered to Moscow by "top administration officials" three weeks ago.
It said the letter did not offer a specific quid pro quo, but was intended to give Moscow an incentive to join the United States in a common front against Iran.
"It's almost saying to them, put up or shut up," a senior official was quoted as saying.
"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."
Asked about it in Jerusalem, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the missile defense system "has always been intended to deter any missile that might come from Iran."
"That's been our stated position. It remains our position. We have explained that to the Russians before," she said, adding that she would discuss the issue at length with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Geneva.
Moscow has been angry for years over former president George W. Bush's plans to place interceptor missiles in Poland and a powerful radar in the Czech Republic, saying the move was directly aimed against Russia.
Bush officials said the system was intended to protect Europe and the United States against a limited long range missile attack by Iran, which Washington accuses of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has rejected repeated calls by the UN Security Council -- of which Russia is a permanent member -- for a halt to uranium enrichment, despite three sets of sanctions being imposed for its defiance.