US President Barack Obama is canceling a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for next month in Moscow, the White House said yesterday.
The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed disappointment after Moscow granted temporary asylum to former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, rejecting US pleas to hand him over to face criminal charges, including espionage.
The White House, in a statement, said it valued “achievements made” between Russia and the US, but cited a “lack of progress” on a host of other issues “such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society.”
“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,” the statements said.
Obama plans to add a stop in Sweden as part of this travels to the G20 summit early next month, a White House official said.
On Tuesday, Obama had confirmed that he would go to Russia for the G20 summit in St Petersburg, but said he was “disappointed” with Moscow’s decision to award one year’s temporary asylum to Snowden, the former information-technology contractor who leaked details of vast US surveillance programs to the media.
Snowden was recently allowed to relocate to a secret safe house after being marooned in Moscow’s airport for five weeks.
Washington had revoked his passport and demanded he be sent back to face charges of espionage over the leaks, which detailed the US National Security Agency’s gathering of vast amounts of telephone call logs and Internet data.
During an appearance on a late-night comedy show on Tuesday, Obama said Moscow was still being helpful in Afghanistan and on counter-terrorism, but spoke of “underlying challenges that we have had with Russia lately.”
“There have been times where they flip back in the Cold War thinking and in a Cold War mentality,” Obama said on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “What I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past, and we have to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.”
Obama also lashed out at Russia over a recent law criminalizing the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors, which critics fear could legitimize widespread discrimination.
“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” he said, adding that Russia “is not unique” in passing such laws.
The Russian measure, signed into law by Putin, introduces fines of up to 5,000 rubles (US$156) for citizens who disseminate information about homosexuality to minors.
The bill has sparked controversy ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in Sochi and raised concerns that visiting gay athletes and spectators could face discrimination or even legal action.
Obama downplayed such fears.
“I think they understand that for most of the countries to participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently,” he said. “They’re athletes. They’re there to compete. If Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgement should be made on the track or in the swimming pool or on the balance beams. People’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”