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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Will Slow Shield Plan for Help on Iran

The United States indicated a willingness on Friday to slow plans for a missile defense shield in Central Europe if Russia agreed to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Plans for the shield have contributed to a deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties over the past few years, but the new administration of President Barack Obama has said it wants to press the "reset button" and build good relations with Moscow.

"If we are able to work together to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, we would be able to moderate the pace of development of missile defenses in Europe," a senior U.S. administration official said in Washington.

It was the most explicit statement yet by an administration official linking the missile shield to Russia's willingness to help resolve the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. official spoke as Undersecretary of State William Burns held talks in Moscow, the most senior U.S. official to do so since Obama took office last month.

Burns signaled that the United States was ready to look at remodeling its missile defense plans to include Moscow.

"[Washington is] open to the possibility of cooperation, both with Russia and NATO partners, in relation to a new configuration for missile defense which would use the resources that each of us have," he said, Interfax reported. Burns gave no details.

In another sign that strained relations may be thawing, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on March 6.

The more flexible U.S. position on its missile shield addressed one of Russia's chief complaints against Washington. Moscow viewed the plan to site missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security in its traditional backyard.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a security conference in Munich, Germany, earlier this month that the United States would press ahead with the missile defense shield but only if it was proven to work and was cost-effective.

The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the missile shield in exchange for Russia helping supply the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

But the U.S. official in Washington focused on Iran.

"The impetus for the deployment of the missile defense systems is the threat from Iran. If it is possible to address that, then that needs to be taken into consideration as you look at the deployment of the system," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

The United States has led a drive to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, which the West fears is a cover to develop atomic weapons and Tehran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.

In an interview recorded last week but broadcast Saturday, Lavrov denied any link between Iran and the missile shield.

"As for the missile shield, we have already repeatedly said publicly ... that in our expert, professional opinion, according to our deepest conviction, it has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program," Lavrov told TV-Center television, according to a transcript published by Itar-Tass. "It is linked to strategic stability ... and directly affects the strategic arsenal of the Russian Federation."

However, Lavrov stressed in the interview and in one with German news magazine Der Spiegel that Russia was open to dialogue with the United States.

He said Russia proposed cooperating with the United States and Europe on a missile shield 18 months ago.

"It's not too late. We could sit down at the negotiating table and evaluate the situation," Lavrov is quoted as saying in the Der Spiegel interview to be published Monday, excerpts of which were released over the weekend.

nPoland expects the United States to carry through with its promises of deeper military cooperation even if Obama scraps plans for deploying elements of a missile defense shield in Poland, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Friday, The Associated Press reported.