A letter from Obama offering to shelve the planned U.S. missile defense system in return for Russian cooperation in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons was hand-delivered to Medvedev three weeks ago by U.S. diplomatic officials, the NYT reported.  Although fervently objecting to the missile defense shield, Russia’s reception of the letter was lukewarm.  Obama too sought to downplay the specifics of its content.

The NYT:

“If we talk about some bargain or exchange, I can say that the issues were not raised in this way, because it’s counterproductive,” Mr. Medvedev said at a news conference in Madrid, where he was meeting with the Spanish prime minister.

“What we are getting from our U.S. partners shows at least one thing, that our U.S. partners are ready to discuss the issue,” he said. “That’s good, because only a few months ago we were getting different signals — that the decision has been made, there is nothing to talk about, that we will do everything as it has been decided.”

Asked about the letter by reporters at an appearance with the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, Mr. Obama said it was not “some sort of quid pro quo” but a statement of fact.

“What I said in the letter was that obviously to the extent that we are lessening Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons, then that reduces the pressure for, or the need for, a missile defense system,” he said. He added that the discussions with Russia did not “diminish my commitment to making sure that Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO members are fully enjoying the partnership, the alliance and U.S. support with respect to their security.”

Reuters also noted that Obama denied the stories that a deal was offered.  For his part, Medvedev said that he sees Iran and the missile defense shield as different issues and is willing to talk about them separately.

Time is counting down quickly to the point when Iran develops a nuclear weapon, and the prospects of such should worry Russia as much as they do the U.S., Europe, and Israel.  From the start, Obama hasn’t been crazy about the missile defense shield, and at the same time he has made Iran a foreign policy priority.  So, a deal would seem ripe for the making.  One thing certain, however: consensus with Russia over Iran needs to be reached while there is still time.

Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.