News Column

Obama Snub of Putin Draws New Mexico Support

Aug. 8, 2013

President Barack Obama, irked by Russia's decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, on Wednesday called off a planned Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The decision drew praise from members of New Mexico's congressional delegation and other members of Congress, some of whom said a tougher U.S. posture toward Russia is long overdue.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, and Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, both praised Obama for backing out of the Moscow summit. In separate statements provided to the Journal, they each said "the president made the right call."

"The 'reset' with Russia has failed," Pearce said. "Russia under Putin has moved backward on a host of issues from human rights to granting asylum to a man who compromised our security. There is no need to reward bad behavior by the Russian authorities."

Heinrich said that "while progress has been made over the past few years in addressing important bilateral issues with Russia, the White House clearly feels it has not made sufficient new progress in key areas to warrant a summit in September.

"Additionally, I share the president's disappointment in Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum."

Heinrich said he was encouraged, however, that Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their Russian counterparts later this week.

"There are a number of important issues, including arms control, trade, and human rights, that we must continue working together on," Heinrich said.

Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also backed Obama's decision.

"He supports the president's decision to forgo a meeting with his counterpart in Russia," Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm said. "He thinks the U.S. and Russia should continue to work in concert on issues of mutual concern."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama based his decision on stalled bilateral relations with Russia, including lack of progress on missile defense, arms control, human rights and other issues. But it was clear that Putin's handling of Snowden, who had been holed up in the Moscow airport for a month before the Russian government granted him asylum last week, was a factor.

Although Obama won't go to Moscow, he will attend a G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg on September 5-6 as planned, the White House said Wednesday. The president will replace his planned Sept. 4 stop in Moscow with a visit to Sweden instead.

"I hope when the president is in St. Petersburg for the G-20 meeting, he will use the opportunity to send a message that America stands with those Russian people who want their government to cease its authoritarian tactics," Pearce said.

Pearce said that, while he backed Obama's decision, it reflected a larger failure by the Obama administration in dealing with a former Cold War foe.

The other two members of the state's congressional delegation, Democrats Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan, were traveling and could not be reached.

"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," Carney said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Russian government said Obama's decision showed that the U.S. is unable to develop relations with Moscow on an "equal basis." Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, played down the Kremlin's role in the Snowden controversy, describing the American's status as a situation that "hasn't been created by us."

"Russian representatives are ready to continue working together with American partners on all key issues," Ushakov said, adding that the invitation to Obama to visit Moscow next month still stands.

Snowden, 30, is accused of leaking secrets about NSA surveillance programs. He first fled from the U.S. to Hong Kong, then made his way to Russia. He was in the transit zone of a Moscow airport for more than a month before Russia granted him asylum last week -- a decision that allowed Russia to represent itself as a defender of human rights amid criticism from the U.S. and other nations of its crackdown on dissent.

During a Tuesday night appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, Obama said he worried that Russia has taken a "Cold War" approach to U.S. relations.

"There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," Obama said.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it was the "unanimous view" of Obama and his national security team that a summit didn't make sense in the current environment, which he described as troubled.

The Snowden decision exacerbated those tensions, and the U.S. saw few signs that progress would be made during the Moscow summit on other agenda items, Rhodes said.

"We'll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground," Rhodes said.

Obama and Putin have frequently found themselves at odds on pressing international issues, most recently in Syria, where the U.S. has accused Putin of helping President Bashar Assad stay in power. The U.S. has said Assad should go and is helping his opposition in a civil war.

The U.S. has also been critical of Russia's crackdown on dissidents and recently sanctioned 18 Russian officials for human rights violations.

For its part, Moscow has accused the U.S. of installing a missile shield in eastern Europe as a deterrent against imagined Russian aggression, despite American assurances that the shield is not a response to its former Cold War foe.

Putin also signed a law last year banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children, a move seen as retaliation for the U.S. measure that cleared the way for the human rights sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: (c)2013 Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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