Obama cancels visit to Putin: It's about much more than Edward Snowden (+video)
Obama cancels visit to Moscow for a September summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Edward Snowden's asylum was a major reason, but it's only one of many.
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Sweden is also at the center of a controversy over another secrets leaker and fugitive, Julian Assange – the WikiLeaks founder who is holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with sexual-assault allegations.Skip to next paragraph
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In its statement on the summit cancellation, the White House listed arms control, missile defense, trade relations, and human rights as among the issues that would have been discussed by the two leaders but which have not had enough progress to necessitate a summit.
“We’ll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
Obama’s transition from a believer in a “reset” of relations with a modernizing Russia to disappointment over lack of progress in bilateral relations – especially in the past year as Mr. Putin returned for a second term as president last September – was on full view Tuesday night as Obama appeared on NBC’s "Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
“There have been times when [the Russians] slip back into cold war thinking and a cold war mentality,” Obama said, citing the asylum granted Mr. Snowden as “disappointing” but indicative of the “underlying challenges” of the US-Russia relationship.
Obama sought to blunt Russian claims that it was acting in the interest of human rights in granting Snowden asylum, emphasizing what he sees as Russia's accelerating retreat from basic human and political rights. The president singled out recent Russian legislation aimed at squelching gay rights, saying he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
The White House cancellation of the Obama-Putin summit “will not be surprising to the Putin government,” says Mr. Simes of the Center for the National Interest. But steps beyond that curtail diplomatic cooperation would start to have a more profound impact, he adds.
Simes notes that a planned “2+2” meeting Friday of the US secretaries of state and defense with their Russian counterparts is expected to go ahead. If that meeting goes well, “I would be surprised if an Obama-Putin meeting does not take place in St. Petersburg,” Simes says.
Some US officials said Wednesday that they did not anticipate Obama meeting alone with Putin in St. Petersburg.
Obama was under bipartisan pressure from members of Congress to cancel the Putin summit. Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York welcomed the cancellation Wednesday, blasting Putin for “acting like a schoolyard bully [who] doesn’t deserve the respect a bilateral summit would have accorded him.”
But if canceling the Moscow summit was intended to alter Putin’s behavior in some way, the effort is likely to be a disappointment, Simes says.
“Putin does not derive his legitimacy from meeting with Obama,” he says. On the contrary, he says the cancelled summit is more likely to hearten Putin’s “nationalistic constituency in Russia.”