At the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, President Obama was overheard saying to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, “This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev responded, “I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.”
This exchange between the foreign leaders took place at the Nuclear Security Summit, which was attended by leaders and high-level representatives from 53 countries and four major organizations around the world who’ve pledged reductions of weapons-grade fissile material.
The goal of the Summit, which took place on March 26-27, is to “work toward strengthening nuclear security, reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism, and preventing terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials… We reaffirm our shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Committed to seeking a safer world for all, we also all share the objective of nuclear security,” states the Joint Declaration by World Leaders, published by South Korea's official news agency Yonhap News.
Republican presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney was quick on the offensive in a CNN interview with political anchor Wolf Blitzer, calling Obama’s actions “alarming” and “troubling.:
“The decision to withdraw our missile defense sites from Poland put us in greater jeopardy, in my view," said Romney. "The actions he's taken so far which he says are to reset relations with Russia have not worked out at all. Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran. 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 is telling us one thing and is doing something else, and is planning on doing something else even more frightening. ”
President Obama defended his remark, which was heard on a live microphone, saying that his plan to reduce nuclear stockpiles is not a secret he’s keeping from the American people. "I think everybody understands -- if they don't, they haven't been listening to my speeches -- that I want to reduce nuclear stockpiles," Obama said. "And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues. And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball."
The Russians have strongly opposed building the proposed missile defense system in central Europe, fearing that it targets them, but the Obama administration officials have stressed that the missile defense system is intended to stem the threat from Iran. The President is committed to the project, but in the short-term, he said that it's not possible due to the complexity of the issue, Russian resistance, and the U.S. election season to get it done soon.
"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,” Obama said of his fight with the uncooperative Congress, also noting that Russia itself had recently held elections and was going through a political transition, reports Kathleen B. Hennessey for LA Times.
Romney concluded his interview with Blitzer calling Russia a geopolitical opponent.
"In terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that's on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council, and is, of course, a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe, and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he's not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming,” said Romney.
Russian President Medvedev called out Romney’s hostile remarks.
"It is very reminiscent of Hollywood and also of a certain phase in Russian-U.S. relations," he said at the end of the Summit. "My first advice is to listen to reason when they formulate their positions. Reason never harmed a presidential candidate," Medvedev said. "My other advice is to check their watches from time to time: it is 2012, not the mid-1970s."