President Obama will have to wait a little while longer to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin for more “flexibility” on missile-defense talks.
Mr. Putin, who began a new six-year term as president Monday, told Mr. Obama in a telephone call Wednesday that he won’t attend the Group of Eight meeting of world leaders at Camp David on May 18 and 19. Russia is also sitting out a two-day NATO summit in Chicago beginning May 20.
The White House said Mr. Obama “expressed his understanding of President Putin’s decision” and welcomed instead the participation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the former president, at the G-8 meeting.
At a summit in Seoul in late March, Mr. Obama was caught in an “open mic” moment with Mr. Medvedev as he asked the Russian leader to tell Mr. Putin that he needed some breathing room or “space” before negotiating with Russia on missile-defense issues. Mr. Obama wasn’t aware their conversation was being recorded by journalists.
“After my election, I have more flexibility,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev, launching a storm of criticism in the U.S. about whether he was hiding his true intentions for a second term.
The White House said Mr. Putin told Mr. Obama in the phone call that he can’t attend the Camp David meeting owing to “his responsibilities to finalize Cabinet appointments in the new Russian government.” Mr. Obama had called to congratulate the Russian president on his election.
It would have been Mr. Putin’s first meeting with Mr. Obama since his election and recent tensions surrounding it. Mr. Putin criticized the U.S. government during his campaign for the presidency and accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of interfering in Russia’s domestic politics during the elections.
“The two presidents reiterated their interest in the sustained high-level dialogue that has characterized the reset of relations, and the substantial progress of the last three years on issues like nuclear security and nonproliferation, Afghanistan, the [World Trade Organization], and increased trade and commercial ties,” the White House said in a statement.