News Column

Obama Cancels Putin Meet Over Snowden Showdown

August 7, 2013

Anne K Walters, dpa

President Obama (file photo)

US President Barack Obama has canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin for next month amid heightened tensions between the countries after Russia's decision to grant asylum to fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, the White House confirmed Wednesday.

"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 US-Russia Summit in early September," spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

After Moscow last week moved to offer temporary asylum to Snowden, the White House had questioned the value of a summit, but had not yet cancelled it outright, noting the many issues the leaders had to discuss.

Obama told talk show host Jay Leno late Tuesday that Russia had slipped "back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality."

He described himself as "disappointed" regarding Russia's decision on Snowden, despite the lack of a formal extradition treaty between the countries. He said the issue was "reflective of some underlying challenges that we've had with Russia," even as he acknowledged "there's still a lot of business we can do with them."

Tensions between Washington and Moscow have also arisen regarding: Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; human rights in Russia; and other issues.

"Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defence 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," Carney said.

"Russia's disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship."

The United States wants Snowden extradited to face espionage charges linked to his revelations of wide-scale electronic surveillance programmes by US spy agencies.

Snowden spent weeks in the Moscow airport before asylum was granted. The delay stemmed from the fact that his US passport had been revoked.

The revelations of a broad surveillance programme of US telephone records and international internet traffic have prompted outrage among US lawmakers and damaged relations with international allies.

However, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel were to meet Friday with their Russian counterparts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoygu. The meetings had also been in doubt.

Snowden and Syria will be on the agenda, along with the New START treaty, cooperation in Afghanistan and Iran's nuclear programme, the State Department said.

Obama and Putin's meeting was to take place ahead of the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in St Petersburg in September. Obama would still attend the September 5-6 summit, the White House said.

"I will be going to that because the G20 summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy, with all the top economic powers in the world. So it's not something unique to Russia," Obama told Leno.

Instead of meeting with Putin, Obama is now expected to go to Sweden from September 4-5. In announcing the visit, the White House called Sweden "a close friend and partner to the United States" and pointed to its role in the European Union and in expanding transatlantic trade.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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