Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama Asks Russia to Cut Him Slack until Reelection

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama Asks Russia to Cut Him Slack until Reelection

Article excerpt

On the sidelines of a nuclear security summit today, President Barack Obama asked outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to delay any major moves until after November.

Barack Obama hopes that Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin will agree to another round of popular nuclear arms cuts when the two meet in May, but is asking the Kremlin to hold off on its potentially deal-breaking objections over NATO's projected European missile defense shield until he has been safely re-elected in November.

Mr. Obama's appeal for Russian forbearance, on an issue that is of critical concern to Moscow, played out at the nuclear security summit in Seoul today. In a speech, Obama said he would ask Mr. Putin to move beyond the dramatic one-third cuts to US and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals agreed to just two years ago in the new START treaty and perhaps even dial the numbers back to levels not seen since the 1950s.

But on the vexing issue of missile defense, which has led the Russians to threaten a possible walkout from the START accord, microphones in the conference room picked up Obama making a surprising request - probably not intended for journalists' ears - to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with whom he was having his last official meeting before Putin is inaugurated in early May.

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for (Putin) to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you...

Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir (Putin).

Russian experts say there's little doubt the Kremlin would like to see Obama re-elected. Official Moscow has been pleased by Obama's policy of "resetting" relations between Russia and the US, which resulted in the new START treaty and other cooperation breakthroughs after years of diplomatic chill while George W. Bush was president.

The Russian media often covers Obama's lineup of Republican presidential challengers in tones of horror, and there seems to be a consensus among Russian pundits that a Republican president would put a quick end to the Obama-era thaw in relations.

"The Republicans are active critics of Russia, and they are extremely negative toward Putin and his return to the presidency," says Dmitry Babich, a political columnist with the official RIA- Novosti news agency. "Democrats are perceived as more easygoing, more positive toward Russia and Putin."

Speaking on the record in Seoul, Mr. Medvedev said the years since Obama came to power "were the best three years in the past decade of Russia-US relations.... I hope this mode of relations will maintain between the Russian Federation and the United States and between the leaders. …

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