Obama gaffe reveals tension over Russian missile defence

US President Barack Obama told Russia’s leader he would pursue further nuclear arms cuts with Russia, but would have more flexibility after the November election to deal with the contentious issue.

The contentious conversation was caught by a microphone without either leader knowing.

“This is my last election,” Obama is heard telling Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. “After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev replied, according to a tape by ABC News: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” an apparent reference to incoming president Vladmir Putin.

Obama and Medvedev did not intend for their comments, made during a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, to be made public.

Once they were, the White House said Obama’s words reflected the reality that domestic political concerns in the both the US and Russia this year would make it difficult to fully address their long-standing differences over the contentious issue of missile defence.

Obama, should he win re-election, would not have to face voters again.

“Since 2012 is an election year in both countries, with an election and leadership transition in Russia and an election in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

Tensions over missile defence have threatened to upend the thawing of relations between the US and Russia in recent years.

Both leaders acknowledged as much in their public statements to reporters following their meeting. Obama said there was “more work to do” to bridge their differences; Medvedev said each country had their own positions on missile defence, but there was still time to find a solution.

Russia has been strongly critical of plans for US-led Nato missile defence in Europe. Russian officials believe the planned missile shield would target Russia’s nuclear deterrent and undermine global stability, while the US insists that it is intended to counter threats from Iran.

It is not the first time Obama has been caught offguard. In November, Mr Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were heard during a private exchange. Sarkozy said he could not “bear” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Obama replied: “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.”


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