United States President Barack Obama gave a wide hint Sunday that he has, indeed, been offering Russia a conditional deal in which the U.S. would scrap its missile shield program in Europe if Russia helped stymie the Iranian nuclear arms program. The existence of such a tit-for-tat is still denied by the White House, however.
In a speech in front of the Prague Castle, President Obama said that since "Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies," the U.S. "intend(s) to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed.”
Obama delivered his speech before tens of thousands of Czechs who waved American and Czech Republic flags.
The U.S. government has been planning to build a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia sees the shield as a threat, while the U.S. has said that the shield is not intended against Russian missiles but against missiles that could be fired from Iran.
In early March, President Obama denied that a letter he sent to Moscow floated any "quid pro quo" with Russia over the missile defense shield and Russia's help in stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons.
He said only that the letter expressed his stance that reducing the threat of a nuclear Iran in turn reduces the need for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
"It was simply a statement of fact that I've made previously," he said, stressing that the defense shield would be aimed at Iran, not Russia. "And what I said in the letter was 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.
The Kremlin also denied that the letter included a suggestion of a trade-off.
Obama also addressed North Korea's missile launch: "Just this morning, we were reminded of why we need a new and more rigorous approach to address this threat," he said. "Rules must be binding," the president said. "Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response, and North Korea must know that the path to the security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons."