Barack Obama will refuse to hold talks with Vladimir Putin when he visitsRussia for the G20 summit next month as a row over granting asylum toNSA whistleblower Edward Snowden plunged their relationship into one of its chilliest phases since the end of the cold war.
The White House confirmed on Tuesday that it had decided to snub the Russian leader by pulling out of the planned bilateral summit in Moscow, but is expected to take part as normal in the broader G20 meeting of international leaders in St Petersburg.
Its decision follows days of mounting rhetoric in Washington in response to Putin’s decision to give temporary asylum to Snowden, who fled to Moscow after the Chinese government allowed him to leave Hong Kong rather than heed US calls for his arrest.
In a statement, the White House said that it had concluded there was “not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to hold a US-Russia summit. It cited a lack of progress on arms control, trade, missile defence and human rights, and added: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States“.
A meeting between the defense secretary Chuck Hagel, the secretary of state John Kerry and their Russian counterparts will go ahead in Washington on Friday as planned.
In a separate announcement, the White House said Obama will visit Sweden instead, travelling to Stockholm the day before the St Petersburg summit. “Sweden is a close friend and partner to the United States,” it said in a statement. “[It] plays a key leadership role on the international stage including in opening new trade and investment opportunities.”
Speaking on Monday night, Obama said he was disappointed that Russia had allowed Swowden to stay instead of sending the former government contractor back to the US to face espionage charges.
In his first direct comments about Snowden since Russia’s decision last week, the president said the situation reflected “underlying challenges” in dealing with Moscow. “There have been times where they slip back into cold war thinking and a cold war mentality,” Obama said on NBC’s Tonight Show.
Snowden, an ex-NSA systems analyst, is accused of leaking details about highly secretive government surveillance programs. He spent several weeks in the transit zone of a Moscow airport before being granted asylum for a year.
The White House has said Obama would attend the international summit in St Petersburg as it was important for the US to be represented at talks among global economic powers.
Obama also criticised a new Russian law cracking down on gay rights activism, saying he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them”.
Russia has said it will enforce the law when it hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Asked whether the law would affect the games, Obama said he believed Putin and Russia have “a big stake in making sure the Olympics work”.
“I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently,” he said.
source: Guardian UK