Obama has eye on elec­tion at sum­mit

Asks Rus­sia to de­lay arms talks

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY DAVE BOYER

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 halfwhis­pers 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

SEOUL | If Pres­i­dent Obama wants to sell more Amer­i­can-made cars to South Korea, no­body has told the av­er­age South Korean.

In a Star­bucks in down­town Seoul, Shin Yoon-chu, 38, was asked for his opin­ion of au­to­mo­biles made in the USA.

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.”

On Tues­day, as Mr. Obama greeted Mr. Medvedev and other lead­ers at the nu­clear sum­mit, he grinned and put his hand over a mi­cro­phone as he spoke to the Rus­sian leader.

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.

Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner Mitt Rom­ney also crit­i­cized the Medvedev ex­change, call­ing it “alarm­ing” and “trou­bling.” He said the pres­i­dent al­ready had agreed to give up too many U. S. nu­clear weapons and scotched a mis­sile-de­fense sys­tem in Poland in un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts to ap­pease Moscow.

“Rus­sia is not a friendly char­ac­ter on the world stage, and for this pres­i­dent to be look­ing for greater flex­i­bil­ity, where he doesn’t have to an­swer to the Amer­i­can peo­ple in his re­la­tions with Rus­sia, is very, very trou­bling, very alarm­ing. . . . This is a pres­i­dent who was telling us one thing and do­ing some­thing else and is plan­ning on do­ing some­thing even more fright­en­ing,” Mr. Rom­ney said in an in­ter­view on CNN.

Pri­mary ri­val Newt Gin­grich also ques­tioned Mr. Obama’s mo­tives, telling CNN that “I’m cu­ri­ous, how many other coun­tries has the pres­i­dent promised that he’d have a lot more flex­i­bil­ity the morn­ing he doesn’t have to an­swer to the Amer­i­can peo­ple?”

The Rom­ney cam­paign web­site im­me­di­ately put up a theme page, sug­gest­ing a pat­tern of Mr. Obama say­ing he would do things on mat­ters such as en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion and spend­ing in a po­lit­i­cally un­ac­count­able sec­ond term that he couldn’t try now.

White House re­but­tal

The Obama cam­paign quickly put out a state­ment call­ing Mr. Rom­ney a flip-flop­per. “Gov. Rom­ney has been all over the map on the key for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges,” cam­paign spokesman Ben Labolt said, and ac­cused the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor of en­gag­ing in “empty rhetoric.”

White House Deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes, who at­tended the Obama-medvedev meet­ing, at first said he didn’t hear the ex­change and couldn’t com­ment on it.

Within an hour of the first re­port­ing of the ex­change, how­ever, Mr. Rhodes is­sued a state­ment via email that the U.S. “is com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing our mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, which we’ve re­peat­edly said is not aimed at Rus­sia.”

“How­ever, given the long­stand­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia on this is­sue, it will take time and tech­ni­cal work be­fore we can try to reach an agree­ment,” Mr. Rhodes said.

“Since 2012 is an elec­tion year in both coun­tries, with an elec­tion and lead­er­ship tran­si­tion in Rus­sia and an elec­tion in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are go­ing to achieve a break­through. There­fore, Pres­i­dent Obama and Pres­i­dent Medvedev agreed that it was best to in­struct our tech­ni­cal ex­perts to do the work of bet­ter un­der­stand­ing our re­spec­tive po­si­tions, pro­vid­ing space for con­tin­ued dis­cus­sions on mis­sile de­fense co­op­er­a­tion go­ing for­ward,” Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Medvedev told re­porters that he be­lieves mis­sile de­fense talks be­tween the two coun­tries “could be more ac­tive.”

“I be­lieve we still have time; time hasn’t run out,” Mr. Medvedev said. “And now we need to dis­cuss and co­op­er­ate on var­i­ous as­pects on Euro­pean mis­sile de­fense. Now, in my view, time has come for dis­cus­sions be­tween tech­ni­cal as­pects and, of course, we re­main at our own po­si­tions, both the United States and Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.”

When he knew he was speak­ing for the mi­cro­phones, Mr. Obama said only, “We’ve got more work to do be­tween our two coun­tries. Dmitry iden­ti­fied some ar­eas of con­tin­ued fric­tion — mis­sile de­fense be­ing an ex­am­ple. And what we’ve agreed to is to make sure that our teams, at a tech­ni­cal level, are in dis­cus­sions about how some of these is­sues can be re­solved.”

The U.S. and its NATO al­lies are pur­su­ing a mis­sile de­fense shield, while Rus­sia ob­jects that it would com­pro­mise its se­cu­rity. Mr. Rhodes said the U.S. has con­tin­u­ously told the Krem­lin that the shield is not be­ing de­vel­oped as a de­fense against Rus­sia, and that the two na­tions should move for­ward on a broad range of nu­clear weapons is­sues rather than be­come mired over the shield is­sue.

China meet­ing

Mr. Rhodes also painted a fa­vor­able picture of Mr. Obama’s meet­ing with the Chi­nese pres­i­dent, say­ing af­ter­ward that Mr. Hu “ab­so­lutely” agreed that North Korea should re­verse its an­nounce­ment of the launch.

“It’s ab­so­lutely the case that the Chi­nese have in­di­cated to us they’re tak­ing it very se­ri­ously,” Mr. Rhodes said. “We’ll see how events un­fold.”

But Mr. Rhodes also said Mr. Obama tried to im­press on the Chi­nese leader that there is a “big­ger picture” when deal­ing with the North Kore­ans. He said the pro­posed launch is “in line with typ­i­cal North Korean be­hav­ior over many years.”

North Korea has an­nounced that it will launch a satel­lite atop a lon­grange mis­sile in mid-april, which the U.S. and other na­tions say would be a vi­o­la­tion of U.N. res­o­lu­tions bar­ring the use of tech­nol­ogy that could be used for nu­clear weaponry. The North’s an­nounce­ment came just two weeks af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had agreed to sup­ply the im­pov­er­ished, iso­lated na­tion with food aid in ex­change for a sus­pen­sion of North Korea’s nu­clear pro­grams.

Since the North’s an­nounce­ment, Mr. Obama has been em­pha­siz­ing that the U.S. won’t “re­ward” bad be­hav­ior. Mr. Rhodes strongly sug­gested that means the food aid would be with­drawn if North Korea pro­ceeds with the mis­sile launch.

Mr. Rhodes also said Mr. Obama dis­cussed trade is­sues with the Chi­nese leader at the end of their meet­ing, but it was a mi­nor por­tion of the dis­cus­sion. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ear­lier this month for­mally com­plained to the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion about China’s al­leged un­fair trade prac­tices in lim­it­ing the sale of cer­tain rare-earth ma­te­ri­als used in the man­u­fac­ture of high-tech de­vices.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

‘GIVE ME SPACE’: Pres­i­dent Obama hud­dles with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev at the nu­clear se­cu­rity sum­mit Mon­day in Seoul. At one point, he was overheard say­ing, “Af­ter my elec­tion, I have more flex­i­bil­ity” about mis­sile-de­fense talks.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Pres­i­dent Obama and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev await the end of a meet­ing at the nu­clear se­cu­rity sum­mit in Seoul on Mon­day. They talked briefly about mis­sile de­fense.

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