AFP: The United States could change its approach to developing a missile shield if Iran were to suspend uranium enrichment in its nuclear programme, a senior US State Department official said Wednesday. BRUSSELS (AFP) The United States could change its approach to developing a missile shield if Iran were to suspend uranium enrichment in its nuclear programme, a senior US State Department official said Wednesday.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said US officials had explained Washington’s stance to Russia in talks at NATO headquarters to help allay any fears that the missile shield would be a threat to Russia.
“Our real concern is not Russia,” Fried told reporters in Brussels.
The shield is “intended against the major problem we see developing, which is Iran, and if that problem went away or attenuated we would obviously draw conclusions,” he said.
“This is a threat-based system, and we would be affected if Iran gave up its (uranium) enrichment and worked with the international community, and had a different approach to things.”
Russia, along with China, has held up attempts to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is for producing energy, but which Western countries fear could be used as a cover to build an atomic bomb.
Uranium enrichment makes nuclear power reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.
Moscow is also deeply opposed to US moves to extend its vast missile shield into Europe, by installing 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States might be ready to soften its position over its move to install the shield in central Europe but provided no details.
“The latest contacts with the Americans demonstrate that a certain change in their point of view is possible,” he told Iranian media during a landmark visit to Tehran. “We will continue our dialogue.”
Then, earlier on Wednesday, he put forward a proposal to break the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear programme, but again no details were revealed.
Washington says its defence shield is needed to guard against threats from “rogue states” like Iran or North Korea. Moscow says the shield would threaten its own missile force.
Fried said that US officials had explained their stance on Iran to the Russians, and that “they seemed interested in the concept.”
He said the message to the Russians was: “We are designing missile defence and advancing a missile defence programme in response to what we see as an Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons threat.”
“We want your help, and the help of all responsible nations, to work with Iran so this problem is attenuated and goes away.”
Only last week Russia called for a freeze on the European part of the shield.
Fried ruled out any immediate halt, but suggested that development of the shield might slow down under the right conditions.
“Our position is that our negotiations with the Poles and the Czechs will continue, but we don’t feel the need to spend money at quite as fast a rate for a threat that is attenuated,” he said.
“You don’t stay on autopilot, you use your brain and judge things as they actually emerge.”
Fried said US officials, headed by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman and including top missile shield expert Lieutenant General Henry Obering, also provided the NATO allies with new data about the threat that Iran poses.
Russia argues that Iran does not have the long-range missiles necessary to pose any threat to Europe, let alone the continental United States, and is unlikely to develop that capacity any time soon.
Fried’s remarks come as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is set to hold a new round of talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to find a solution to the atomic standoff next week in Rome.
Solana, acting on the behalf of major world powers, is trying to persuade Tehran to resume talks on suspending uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of political and economic incentives.