U.S. may moderate shield plan if Russia helps on Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will review “the pace of development” of its missile defense shield in Europe if Russia agrees to help stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

The official was speaking as U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns was in Moscow to push ahead with Washington’s vow to hit the “reset button” on U.S.-Russian relations and halt a drift in relations.

“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 told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“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 official said.

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.

Obama has said he is prepared to talk to Iran’s leaders and offered economic incentives if Tehran “unclenches its fist.”

Burns was quoted as saying earlier that the United States was ready to look at remodeling its missile defense plans to include Moscow, which views the shield as a threat and has vowed to deploy missiles on Poland’s border if it goes ahead.

The administration official said Burns’ comments were not new but certainly “more expansive” than what had been said in the past. President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, pushed the Russians to cooperate in the project without any success.

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

The administration official said the United States wanted to pursue a “cooperative arrangement” with Moscow and that Burns’ trip to Moscow was a “signal of our seriousness of wanting to engage.”

Editing by Patricia Zengerle