President Barack Obama will no longer meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month while he is in Russia for Group of 20 economic summit, the administration announced Wednesday. The move comes after Russia granted asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Tension between the two countries had been growing even before Russia assented to letting Snowden remain within its borders, with disagreements on a host of issues, including Putin's support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement:
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 twelve 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 two leaders last met in Ireland in June while Russia was allowing Snowden to remain in the Moscow airport, and Carney said Russia's recent decision to officially safeguard Snowden was a factor in the decision to cancel the upcoming meeting. Obama was never planning to meet one-on-one with Putin in St. Petersburg at the G-20 summit, but was going to travel to Moscow separately to talk with the Russian president. This is the first time since the Cold War an American president has cancelled a publicly announced visit in Russia.
In an appearance on Jay Leno Tuesday night, Obama expressed his dissatisfaction with the United States' diplomatic relationship with Russia. "There have been times where they slip back into cold-war thinking and a cold war mentality," Obama said. "And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that's the past and we've got to think about the future, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to cooperate more effectively than we do."
Yet some say the decision to cancel Obama's meeting with Putin adds unnecessary strain on an already delicate situation:
While the Snowden affair is a significant bump in the faltering effort to "reset" relations with Russia, it should not derail the relationship. Washington and Moscow are at odds over several issues, including Syria and Russia's human rights record, but other important matters still require U.S.-Russian cooperation.
The planned September summit would allow the two presidents to discuss the Snowden affair and other issues face-to-face. The meeting should not be seen as a reward, but as an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss areas of both agreement and difference. Canceling the meeting would deprive the United States of an important opportunity to directly raise concerns and expectations with the Russians.
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