Obama cancels visit with Putin
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama formally canceled a much-discussed visit to Moscow next month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing a lack of progress in bilateral relations since Putin regained the presidency a year ago.
Obama will still attend a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in early September, but now will go to Sweden beforehand instead of stopping in Moscow to meet with Putin, the White House announced.
“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” a White House statement said.
In addition, no one-on-one meeting between Obama and Putin is scheduled for the G-20 summit, a senior administration official told CNN on the condition of not being identified. However, the two leaders would see each other at group meetings in St. Petersburg.
The White House statement noted progress in relations with Russia during Obama’s first term, much of it when Dmitry Medvedev was president and Putin was prime minister. Putin regained the presidency in May 2012.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” the White House said.
The statement also cited Russia’s recent decision to grant asylum to classified leaker Edward Snowden as a factor in the decision, but a senior administration official told CNN that the talks with Putin were likely to have been canceled regardless.
“We just hadn’t gotten any traction” on issues that the summit would have addressed, including missile defense and a reduction in nuclear missiles, the official said on the condition of not being identified, adding that attempts to find common ground on economic and trade agreements also were problematic.
“We’re not in the business of doing summits just to do summits,” the official told CNN.
Despite canceling the Moscow talks with Putin, the White House said a meeting set for Friday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with their Russian counterparts would proceed “to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.”
Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Putin, told reporters on Wednesday that “we’re disappointed with the U.S. administration’s decision,” the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.
“It’s clear that the decision is linked to the situation around former CIA contractor Edward Snowden,” Ushakov said, according to Tass, which quoted him as saying the situation “illustrates that the U.S. is not ready to build equal relations with Russia.”
The invitation for Obama “remains in force,” he said.
The senior Obama administration official said, “we still have business to do with these guys on Afghanistan and Iran as well as other issues.”
On NBC’s “Tonight Show” Tuesday, Obama said he was disappointed Russia had granted asylum to Snowden, a former government contractor who leaked details of National Security Agency surveillance programs that sparked a political firestorm.
The United States wants Russia to return Snowden to face trial on charges under the Espionage Act, but Russia instead granted him at least a year of asylum and he is in an unknown location in the country.
Russia’s leaders have a proclivity for slipping into a Cold War mindset, Obama said, adding that it is essential that cooperation continues between the two nations.
Obama also criticized Russia for a new law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors.”
Implemented last month after Putin signed it into law, the measure bars public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it. The law has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups as highly discriminatory.
“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Obama said.
U.S. legislators from both parties had called for Obama to cancel the Moscow talks with Putin, and some suggested he also should refuse to attend the G-20 summit in Russia.
“Putin doesn’t deserve the respect after what he’s done with Snowden,” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York told CNN on Wednesday. “He goes out of his way to stick the knife into the United States.”
But Schumer said he supports Obama attending the G-20 gathering.
CNN’s Jessica Yelling, Jake Tapper and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report, which was written by Tom Cohen.
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