As he headed for a summit in Russia, President Obama on Wednesday defended his “reset” with Moscow and declared it a success in spite of high-profile setbacks dealt his administration by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We succeeded,” Mr. Obama told reporters in Stockholm. “There were a whole host of outcomes from that reset that were valuable to the United States.”
But the president did say his rapport with Mr. Putin has “kind of hit a wall in terms of additional progress.”
Mr. Putin has frustrated Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy agenda this year, blocking U.N. action against Syria and granting asylum to fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The personal relationship between the two leaders has degenerated in recent months to sniping and name-calling.
The two men will come face-to-face Thursday at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In an interview broadcast Wednesday, Mr. Putin said he felt sorry that Mr. Obama canceled a one-on-one meeting in Moscow before the summit. Mr. Obama pulled out of the meeting when Russia granted asylum last month to Mr. Snowden. Mr. Putin expressed hope the two would have serious discussions about Syria and other issues in St. Petersburg.
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“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia. And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either,” he said of their relationship. “We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed.”
Mr. Obama cited a new START treaty with Moscow to reduce nuclear stockpiles and Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization as examples of a successful new relationship with the U.S.
“I have not written off the idea that the United States and Russia are going to continue to have common interests even as we have some very profound differences on some other issues,” Mr. Obama said.
During his stop in Sweden, Mr. Obama also sought to reassure Europeans again that America isn’t spying on them, saying his administration wants to “align” U.S. surveillance practices to address concerns in the European Union.
Mr. Obama said his administration is reviewing whether U.S. spy agencies have been “tipping over into being too intrusive with respect to the … interactions of other governments.”
“We are consulting with the EU in this process; we are consulting with other countries in this process and finding out from them what are their areas of specific concern and trying to align what we do in a way that … alleviates some of the public concerns,” Mr. Obama said. “I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls.”
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The president visited Stockholm’s Great Synagogue, where he paid tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and businessman who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. He also visited the Royal Institute of Technology and praised Sweden’s climate-control policies, which include a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
“The work you’ve done on energy, I think, is something that the United States can and will learn from,” Mr. Obama said. “If we’re going to continue to grow, improve our standard of living while maintaining a sustainable planet, then we’re going to have to change our patterns of energy use. And Sweden, I think, is far ahead of many other countries.”
Mr. Obama praised Sweden’s political culture, long cited as a model of successful democratic socialism, and its commitment to spending on welfare-state programs.
“If I were here in Europe, I’d probably be considered right in the middle, maybe center-left, maybe center-right, depending on the country,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “In the United States, sometimes … the names I’m called are quite different.”