Obama attempted on Tuesday to downplay the remarks he was caught making on a live TV feed to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, during a bilateral meeting on Monday. Media reports of the remarks led to criticism from Obama's Republican opponents.
The Washington Post reports Obama did not realize that television cameras were recording his exchange with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev at the end of a bilateral meeting between the two. Obama was recorded saying that he needed "space" to allow him time get re-elected before dealing with the problem of the European missile defense.
Obama, leaning closer to Medvedev, in a confidential manner, said: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
ABC News quotes the exchange between both leaders:
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
Republican opponents of the Obama administration were quick to condemn the remarks. The Guardian reports that "Within minutes, rightwing blogs in America were full of accusations that Obama's comments offered fresh evidence of weakness, of kowtowing again to foreign governments." Others interpreted the remarks to mean that Obama was planning to show his true radical left-wing "colors" in his second term.
Mitt Romney insinuated that it revealed Obama's true intention of conceding to the Russians for his personal political advantage. Romney, sensing an opportunity to put Obama on the defensive, said on Monday, that: “President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term.”
Romney further increased the tone of his attack, saying that Russia was the number one geopolitical foe of the United States. The Washington Post reports White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, reacted to Romney's critical remarks, saying they were a "little inaccurate."
Chicago Sun Times reports Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, wrote to the president, demanding “urgent explanation of (his) comments to President Medvedev in Seoul this morning.” Turner said: “Congress has made exquisitely clear to your administration and to other nations that it will block all attempts to weaken U.S. missile defenses. As the chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which authorizes U.S. missile defense and nuclear weapons policy, I want to make perfectly clear that my colleagues and I will not allow any attempts to trade missile defense of the United States to Russia or any other country."
The Washington Post reports that Obama, defending his remarks to a reporter who questioned him, said the missile defense issue was "extraordinarily complex, very technical" and that it would be almost impossible to win a broad consensus in Congress on any major agreement with Russians in an election period. Obama managed to crack a joke while he answered the question: “First of all, are the mikes on?”
Then, in a more serious note, he said: “I don’t think it’s any surprise that you can’t start that a few months before a presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia and they’re in the process of a presidential transition where a new president is going to be coming in in a little less than two months.”
Obama added: “Frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations. The stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is probably pretty good evidence of that. I think we’ll do better in 2013.”
ABC News reports that a senior administration officer had earlier defended Obama's remarks, saying: "...this is a political year in which the Russians just had an election, we’re about to have a presidential and congressional elections — this is not the kind of year in which we’re going to resolve incredibly complicated issue like this. So there’s an advantage to pulling back and letting the technical experts work on this as the president has been saying.”
Obama told reporters that his administration was committed to co-operating with Russia to reduce the nuclear stockpiles in both countries, but he stressed that it was necessary to build trust on major issues such as the missile defense system. Obama said: “I think everybody understands that — if they haven’t they haven’t been listening to my speeches — I want to reduce our nuclear stockpiles. And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues. And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball, I’m on record.”
Chicago Sun Time points out that the tension generated by the European missile defense program was threatening to undo the years of thawing of relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
The Russians have strongly opposed the plans for a U.S.-led NATO missile defense system for Europe because they fear the system would undermine Russia's deterrent capability and threaten global stability. But the U.S. insists that the defense system was designed to counter threats from Iran's long range missile program. The U.S. and Russia have also clashed on other issues in recent times, including the war in Syria, and Iran's nuclear program.