- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2012

SEOUL — President Obama pressed Chinese President Hu Jintao to dissuade North Korea from its planned long-range missile launch next month, though Mr. Obama’s plea was overshadowed by a few overheard half-whispers that caused a political furor back home over his foreign-policy honesty.

“We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding nonproliferation and preventing destabilizing nuclear weapons is very important,” Mr. Obama told the Chinese leader in front of reporters before their meeting began.

But remarks Mr. Obama made when he thought reporters weren’t listening produced the opposite image from what the White House sought for a trip that focused on nuclear proliferation Monday and had him pose Sunday with soldiers at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.

Mr. Obama was overheard putting off a difficult national security question by asking outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for breathing room until after Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign to negotiate on missile defense.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev at the end of their 90-minute meeting, apparently referring to Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin as “him.”

Mr. Medvedev replied in English, “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you.”

“This is my last election,” Mr. Obama said. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”

The Russian leader responded, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

The two men are in Seoul for a nuclear security summit involving the leaders of more than 50 nations. Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev were huddling in their respective chairs when the conversation took place.

The exchange was picked up by microphone of a Russian reporter as journalists were allowed into the meeting room for remarks by the two leaders. It was first reported by ABC News, which said it verified the conversation.

A Washington Times reporter heard a portion of the tape that begins with Mr. Obama saying, “This is my last election.”

GOP piles on

The nation’s top Republicans immediately began accusing the president of surreptitiously intending to give the store away to the Kremlin when he doesn’t have to worry about the political fallout in the U.S.

“When the president returns from S. Korea, we look forward to hearing what he meant by having ‘more flexibility’ on missile defense,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said via his Twitter account.

“Let this exchange be a warning to voters: President Obama will have ‘more flexibility’ to weaken us if he’s re-elected in November,” former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page.

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