Washington offers Moscow a deal though both sides go to great length to avoid the necessity of admitting it.

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama confirmed Kommersant’s report that they had discussed the possibility that Washington might abandon its European ballistic missile defense plans in return for Moscow’s assistance in dealing with the Iranian nuclear problem. Claiming that the letters they had exchanged suggested no deals, the presidents admitted existence of a subject of the talks.

It was on March 2 that Kommersant first assumed that Obama allowed for abandonment of the plans to develop American nuclear shield in Europe in return for assistance from Russia in the Iranian matter. What information was available to this newspaper then indicated that the offer had been formulated in Obama’s letter to Medvedev in early February.

The New York Times featured a piece “In Secret Letter, Obama Offered Deal To Russia” with references to Kommersant, the following day. Its sources in the White House backed the story first published in Kommersant. They called Obama’s letter “part of the attempt to push the Reload button in the US-Russian relations.”

The news stirred all of the United States so that Obama himself felt the need to go public with comments. Addressing reporters after a meeting with British PM Gordon Brown on Tuesday, Obama admitted sending a “lengthy letter” to the president of Russia and linking the ABM issue with US-Russian cooperation in the matter of Iran in it.

“It was described (in the media – Kommersant) as some sort of deal. It was meanwhile but a simple statement of the fact that the ABM program aimed to neutralize the threat from Iran and not from Russia,” Obama said. “I wrote in the letter that if we could lessen Iran’s eagerness for nuclear weapons, it would weaken the necessity of ABM systems. I hope that we can have constructive relations (with Russia – Kommersant) based on common interests and mutual respect.”

The gist of Obama’s explanations came down to the following. His letter did not offer a deal as such. It only outlined the situation that would enable Washington to meet Moscow halfway and abandon the plans to install elements of the ABM system in East Europe. “It figures, meaning that no specific deals are ever suggested in letters such as this. Particularly since the presidents have never even met yet,” a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “The suggested connection between the issues was probably an invitation to a dialogue. Obama implied that official Washington might scrap its ABM plans. The Republicans in their turn had said at every opportunity that the decision was final and that there was nothing to discuss anymore.”

The impression is that Medvedev took Obama’s letter for an invitation to a dialogue indeed. Medvedev mentioned the letter from his US counterpart at the press conference in Madrid, Spain, several hours before Obama went public in Washington, DC. Like Obama, Medvedev confirmed existence of the letter and a connection between the ABM issue and the Iranian nuclear problem. “All I can say is that no deals were suggested because it would have been counter-productive,” Medvedev said. “We’ve been working with our American colleagues on the matter of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Medvedev said, however, that the letter from Washington convinced him of its readiness to discuss ballistic missile defense. “The American partners are prepared for the discussion. That’s great. After all, we were receiving absolutely different signals but a few months ago,” the Russian president added. “I hope that the positive signals we’ve been getting from Washington will evolve into agreements. Our American colleagues and President Obama are out to intensify our cooperation.”

Sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry confirm that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US State Secretary Hillary Clinton will discuss ABM systems and Iranian nuclear programs at their meeting in Geneva, this Friday.