Obama asks Russia for space amid elections
U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a nuclear security summit in Seoul yesterday that he had little flexibility to address Russia’s objections to a U.S. missile defence shield during an election year. The exchange between the two leaders was picked up on an open microphone. Obama was heard explaining to Medvedev that on all foreign policy issues but particularly missile defence it was important for Russia to give him "space." According to a transcript on ABC news Medvedev replied, "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space," and pledged to transmit this information to Vladimir Putin.
The exchange indicates Obama’s belief that he has little leverage to conclude deeply divided foreign policy election issues in a campaign year, and his confidence in being re-elected. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes later told reporters "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… Therefore, President Obama and President Medvedev agreed that it was best to instruct our technical experts to do the work of better understanding our respective positions, providing space for continued discussions on missile defence cooperation going forward."
The US backed defence shield is intended to protect western allies from the growing nuclear threat in North Korea and Iran. Russia is opposed to the system claiming it will infringe upon their defences and has sought to build a joint system. NATO has dismissed the idea and sought to assure Russia that its nuclear deterrence would remain unaffected.