President Obama canceled a planned one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest Moscow’s granting of asylum to fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden and a “lack of progress” between the two nations on other issues, the White House announced Wednesday.
“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,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
White House officials have been threatening to cancel the meeting since Russia granted temporary asylum last week to Mr. Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. on felony charges of leaking classified information about government surveillance programs. The former National Security Agency contractor has been in Russia for about six weeks, and had been holed up in a Moscow airport since arriving from Hong Kong while the Kremlin decided whether to allow him to stay.
Mr. Carney cited other tensions in the administration’s relationship with Russia, including “our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months.”
“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 U.S.-Russia summit in early September,” he 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 White House said the administration values some “achievements” it has made with Russia in Mr. Obama’s first term, including the New START agreement, and cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. It said cooperation “remains a priority,” and that on Friday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry will meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington “to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.”
Mr. Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said in a conference call with reporters that Mr. Obama’s decision demonstrated Washington’s inability to develop a relationship with its former Cold War adversary on an “equal basis.”
He said Mr. Putin was still willing to met with Mr. Obama in Moscow next month, adding, “Russian representatives are ready to continue working together with American partners on all key issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda.”
But Mr. Ushakov also threw some of the blame for recent tensions on the American side, noting that Moscow hadn’t created the diplomatic stalemate resulting from Mr. Snowden’s unexpected flight, and that the U.S. had resisted a bilateral extradition agreement with Russia that might have made a resolution possible.
“For many years, the Americans have avoided signing an extradition agreement,” he said. “And they have invariably responded negatively to our requests for extradition of people who committed crimes” on Russian territory.
Mr. Obama’s move did receive bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat who was among those lawmakers urging Mr. Obama to cancel the meeting, said the president “clearly made the right decision.”