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US foreign policy shifts on several fronts -

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Reporter: Kim Landers

ELEANOR HALL: The Obama administration has given some clear indications today that it has no qualms
about shaking up US foreign policy.

The administration reached out to Russia for help in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions and on
the same day it began making overtures towards Syria.

Washington correspondent Kim Landers has our report.

KIM LANDERS: Relations between the United States and Russia have been strained lately. So when
Americans awoke to a newspaper report that President Barack Obama had sent a secret letter to his
Russian counterpart, it sounded intriguing.

The New York Times claimed that Barack Obama had told the Russian President Dimitri Medvedev that
he'd back off deploying a US missile shield in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from
developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles.

Barack Obama has confirmed he's written a lengthy letter to the Russians.

BARACK OBAMA: The way it got characterised, I think, was as some sort of quid pro quo. It was
simply a statement of fact that I have made previously which is that the missile defence program to
the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with, not a Russian threat, but an Iranian
threat.

KIM LANDERS: The US missile shield is due to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic and it's
vehemently opposed by Moscow.

The US insists it's designed to protect Europe and America from a long range missile attack by
Iran, which Washington believes is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

President Obama says he's striving for a 'constructive' relationship with Russia.

BARACK OBAMA: I've said that we need to reset or reboot the relationship there. Russia needs to
understand our unflagging commitment to the independence and security of countries like Poland or
Czech Republic. On the other hand we have areas of common concern - the issue of nuclear
non-proliferation and the issue of terrorism.

KIM LANDERS: Defence Minister Robert Gates is also trying to soothe Russian suspicions.

ROBERT GATES: And so I don't think anybody was trying to put the Russians on the spot. This really
was about saying - look here is the cause of the concern, can we do something about the cause and
if not, then what can we do together to deal with a potential threat to you, the Russians as well
as Western and Eastern Europe.

KIM LANDERS: Russian President Dimitri Medvedev says he's pleased the US seems to be indicating a
more flexible approach to the missile shield program.

Barack Obama's letter to the Russians was delivered three weeks ago. It's is an early gesture from
his fledgling administration of how he might reshape American foreign policy.

There's also been a change in Middle East diplomacy. During a visit to Israel, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton has announced that the US will dispatch two senior envoys to Syria. They'll begin
discussions with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

HILLARY CLINTON: We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria
might be. Again, we don't engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to
be a purpose to them. There has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our
allies and our shared values.

KIM LANDERS: Hillary Clinton's statement is the most significant sign yet that the Obama
administration is considering restoring ties with Damascus. There are plenty of foreign policy
challenges facing the Obama administration.

President Obama has ordered a review of the Afghanistan policy and he's sending Vice-President Joe
Biden to Brussels next week to hold talks with NATO allies and top officials there about both
Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.