Recall the 18-second exchange caught on an open mike before the Obama-Medvedev joint news conference. The event was part of the global nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea.
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you . . .”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” meaning President Putin.
The particular issue between Washington and Moscow is the U.S.-NATO plan to protect Europe from potential missile attacks from Iran or some other Middle East country. Putin has objected to the system, saying it could be used against Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (or ICBMs) aimed at the United States, something that American officials have steadily denied.
There is also the question of future nuclear arms negotiations over strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, something both nations have put off until next year given the timing of presidential elections. Putin was inaugurated on May 7.
Obama’s open-mike statement came up last week in the Armed Services Committee markup of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill. It was during discussion of an amendment offered by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) to cut a GOP proposal to add $100 million to the bill. The money would be used to prepare for an antimissile site on the East Coast to meet the threat of a future nuclear-armed ICBM from Iran.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the panel’s strategic subcommittee, argued for keeping the money in and said Obama apparently has a different view of the threat. “We know apparently there is a secret deal with the Russians” about a time, he said, “when the president will have greater flexibility after the election” to deal with them.
He added, “We should not be responding to a secret deal with the Russians,” and when it comes to defending the East Coast from intercontinental missiles the United States should “proceed even if this president will not.”
Garamendi replied it was wrong to insert the presidential campaign into the debate. “To suggest the president has a secret deal is a nice campaign talking point, but has nothing to do with the issue before us,” he said.
That didn’t stop the Republicans. “It wasn’t Mr. Turner who suggested there was a secret deal, it was the president who suggested that he has a secret deal” on national television, said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) responded to Franks’s remark by saying Obama had said “after the election he would have more flexibility, he did not say he had a secret deal but rather he would get into discussions.”