GOP fears Obama will sell out to Rus­sia

Pres­i­dent de­nies ‘hid­ing the ball’

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

SEOUL | A de­fen­sive Pres­i­dent Obama said Tues­day that he wasn’t guilty of “hid­ing the ball” when an open mi­cro­phone caught him plead­ing with the pres­i­dent of Rus­sia to de­lay mis­sile-shield talks un­til af­ter this year’s U.S. elec­tions.

Mr. Obama was re­spond­ing to a state­side po­lit­i­cal furor Mon­day, though his re­marks Tues­day did not quell Repub­li­cans’ spe­cific crit­i­cism that he is wait­ing un­til he is po­lit­i­cally in­vul­ner­a­ble to sell out U.S. in­ter­ests to the Krem­lin.

“The only way I get this stuff done is if I’m con­sult­ing with the Pen­tagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bi­par­ti­san sup­port and, frankly, the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment is not con­ducive to those kinds of thought­ful con­sul­ta­tions,” Mr. Obama told re­porters at a nu­clear se­cu­rity sum­mit here. “This is not a mat­ter of hid­ing the ball.”

A day ear­lier, Mr. Obama was caught on tape telling Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev that he needed “space” this year to put his re-elec­tion cam­paign be­hind him be­fore tak­ing up mis­sile-de­fense ne­go­ti­a­tions with the

Rus­sians.

“Af­ter my elec­tion, I have more flex­i­bil­ity,” he told Mr. Medvedev, un­aware that their con­ver­sa­tion was be­ing recorded by a jour­nal­ist.

Re­pub­li­can re­ac­tion

Repub­li­cans in Washington re­acted an­grily Mon­day, ac­cus­ing Mr. Obama of hid­ing his true in­ten­tions and fear­ing that he might give in to Rus­sian de­mands af­ter the elec­tions. GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, for­eign pol­icy mavens and po­lit­i­cal strate­gists fo­cused on what the episode may say about Mr. Obama’s can­dor and trust­wor­thi­ness.

“This isn’t about pol­i­tics. This is about the pres­i­dent’s real agenda,” pres­i­den­tial hopeful Rick San­to­rum said while cam­paign­ing Tues­day in Beaver Dam, Wis. “The pres­i­dent’s real agenda is to with­draw, to al­low — whether it’s the Rus­sians or the Chi­nese or who­ever it is, the Ira­ni­ans — let them have their run of the ta­ble be­cause Amer­ica’s no longer in the busi­ness of pro­tect­ing our­selves and our al­lies.”

In an opin­ion piece at Fox News, Karl Rove, who was Pres­i­dent Bush’s top po­lit­i­cal ad­viser and the ar­chi­tect of his 2004 re-elec­tion bid, said Mr. Obama’s words “go be­yond for­eign af­fairs” and could hurt his chances in Novem­ber.

“Mr. Obama’s pri­vate turned public re­marks [may] con­firm doubts that he’s not shoot­ing straight with the Amer­i­can peo­ple. It may also con­trib­ute to a be­lief that he holds vot­ers in thinly dis­guised con­tempt. Is Mr. Obama also con­ceal­ing un­pop­u­lar do­mes­tic poli­cies he’ll spring on the coun­try in a sec­ond term?” Mr. Rove said. “What the pres­i­dent calls ‘flex­i­bil­ity’ with Rus­sian au­to­crats, Amer­i­can vot­ers will likely view as a lack of can­dor with them.”

One out­lier in the po­lit­i­cal wran­gling Tues­day was House Speaker John Boehner. The Ohio Re­pub­li­can de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion from re­porters to com­ment on the pres­i­dent’s re­marks.

“While the pres­i­dent is over­seas,” Mr. Boehner said, “I think itęs ap­pro­pri­ate that we not be crit­i­cal of him or of our coun­try.”

Obama’s ex­pla­na­tion

The episode over­shad­owed the nu­clear sum­mit, a con­fer­ence of 54 heads of state and gov­ern­ment that wrapped up Tues­day. Clearly ea­ger to put the con­tro­versy to rest be­fore leav­ing South Korea on Tues­day night, Mr. Obama jumped at the chance when a re­porter asked him to clar­ify his com­ments. He be­gan by ask­ing re­porters, “Are the mics on?

“What I said yes­ter­day — is some­thing that I think ev­ery­one in this room un­der­stands,” the pres­i­dent said. “Arms con­trol is ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex, very tech­ni­cal, and the only way it gets done is if you can con­sult and build a strong un­der­stand­ing, both be­tween coun­tries and within coun­tries.”

Mr. Obama said he is com­mit­ted to nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment and con­firmed that he sees Amer­i­can mis­sile de­fense as sec­ondary to the goal of build­ing trust with the Krem­lin on dis­ar­ma­ment.

“I think ev­ery­body un­der­stands — if they don’t, they haven’t been lis­ten­ing to my speeches — that I want to re­duce nu­clear stock­piles,” Mr. Obama said. “And one of the bar­ri­ers to do­ing that is build­ing trust and co­op­er­a­tion around mis­sile-de­fense is­sues. I’m on record, I made a speech about it to a whole bunch of Korean univer­sity stu­dents [Mon­day]. I want to see us over time grad­u­ally, sys­tem­at­i­cally re­duce reliance on nu­clear weapons.”

Although the pres­i­dent spoke to Mr. Medvedev only in terms of his own elec­tion, Mr. Obama said Tues­day that con­gres­sional elec­tions and Rus­sia’s just-com­pleted pres­i­den­tial vote also in­flu­enced his think­ing on the mat­ter.

He said the New START agree­ment that he and Mr. Medvedev signed in 2010 re­quired “a painstak­ing two-year process.”

“I don’t think it’s any sur­prise that you can’t start that a few months be­fore pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sional elec­tions in the United States, and at a time when they just com­pleted elec­tions in Rus­sia, and they’re in the process of a pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion where a new pres­i­dent’s go­ing to be com­ing in, in a lit­tle less than two months,” Mr. Obama said.

Rus­sian re­ac­tion

The Rus­sian leader backed Mr. Obama on Tues­day by say­ing, “It’s not sur­pris­ing that a num­ber of is­sues are bet­ter solved in a spe­cific po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.

“There are good and bad pe­ri­ods for solv­ing things,” he said. “It’s quite ob­vi­ous that the sit­u­a­tion when all po­lit­i­cal forces are sta­ble is the best time for that.”

Mr. Medvedev also in­jected him­self into U.S. pol­i­tics in a more pointed way, chastis­ing Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner Mitt Rom­ney and say­ing the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor should “rely on rea­son” and not try to act like a movie star.

In the con­text of crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Obama about the pre­vi­ous day’s whis­pered ex­change, Mr. Rom­ney called Rus­sia the “No. 1 geopo­lit­i­cal foe” of the U.S., words that Mr. Medvedev said “smacked of Hol­ly­wood” and sounded as if they came from the Cold War.

“It’s 2012, not the mid-1970s, and what­ever party he be­longs to, he must take the ex­ist­ing re­al­i­ties into ac­count,” the Rus­sian leader said.

The U.S. and NATO are pur­su­ing a mis­sile-de­fense shield in Europe, a project that Rus­sia says will com­pro­mise its se­cu­rity. U.S. of­fi­cials want Rus­sia to pro­ceed with ne­go­ti­a­tions on var­i­ous tech­ni­cal mat­ters re­lated to the shield while they seek com­mon ground on the over­all sys­tem.

Lead­ers at the sum­mit that wrapped up Tues­day agreed to work on se­cur­ing and ac­count­ing for all nu­clear ma­te­rial by 2014, in­clud­ing com­pleted weapons, bomb ma­te­rial and the skills to build them.

Although Mr. Obama also met Tues­day with Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani, the White House was tight-lipped about an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port that U.S. of­fi­cials of­fered key con­ces­sions to Islamabad’s spy chief on the CIA’S drone cam­paign against al Qaeda in Pak­istan.

The re­port said the U.S. of­fered to pro­vide ad­vance no­tice of mis­sile at­tacks and re­spect lim­its on the types of tar­gets. Deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes said only that the two men “dis­cussed ways in which we can en­sure that we have an on­go­ing di­a­logue at all lev­els of our gov­ern­ment.”

As Mr. Obama gave re­porters his ex­pla­na­tion of the whis­pered ex­change, Mr. Medvedev and Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan Nazarbayev of Kaza­khstan stood at his side with an in­ter­preter. As soon as Mr. Obama fin­ished speak­ing, he be­gan to walk out of the room, but Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Nazarbayev were clearly wait­ing for the in­ter­preter to tell them what the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent had said.

Re­al­iz­ing that his coun­ter­parts hadn’t re­ceived the trans­la­tion, Mr. Obama be­gan to usher them out of the room any­way, say­ing “we’re go­ing to leave” and that the other two world lead­ers would “get the trans­la­tion later.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PRE­CAU­TION: Pres­i­dent Obama cov­ers the mi­cro­phone as he ar­rives at the Tues­day ses­sion of nu­clear se­cu­rity sum­mit in Seoul. On Mon­day, Mr. Obama was overheard im­plor­ing the Rus­sian pres­i­dent to put off arms talks.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama greets U.S. troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea on Tues­day be­fore his de­par­ture to the United States af­ter at­tend­ing the in­ter­na­tional nu­clear se­cu­rity sum­mit in Seoul.

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