The Washington Post

Caught on open mike, Obama tells Medvedev he needs ‘space’ on missile defense

In their joint statement to reporters here, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke carefully about continuing discussions on the sensitive issues of European missile defense.

But in an unscripted moment picked up by camera crews, the American president was more blunt: Let me get reelected first, he said; then I’ll have a better chance of making something happen.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama can be heard telling Medvedev, apparently referring to incoming Russian president — and outgoing prime minister — Vladi­mir Putin.

“Yeah, I understand,” Medvedev replies, according to an account relayed by an ABC News producer, who said she viewed a recording of the discussion made by a Russian camera crew. “I understand your message about space. Space for you . . .

“This is my last election,” Obama interjects. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev, who last week demanded written proof that Russia is not the intended target of U.S. missile defense efforts, responded agreeably.

“I understand,” he told the U.S. president. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

The exchange provided a rare glimpse of a world leader speaking frankly about the political realities he faces at home.

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney quickly criticized Obama for the remark, saying in a statement, “President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term.”

In a statement to reporters, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said that reaching an agreement with Russia on missile defense will “take time and technical work.” Because 2012 is an election year in both countries, he added, “it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough.”

Therefore, the two leaders agreed that “it was best to instruct our technical experts to do the work of better understanding our respective positions, providing space for continued discussions on missile defense cooperation going forward,” Rhodes said.

He reiterated that the administration is “committed to implementing our missile defense system, which we’ve repeatedly said is not aimed at Russia.”

This is not the first time an open microphone has caused problems for Obama. During his trip to the Group of 20 economic summit in France last year, Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were overheard by foreign journalists talking about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can’t stand him. He’s a liar,” Sarkozy said, according to the French Web site Arret Sur Images, which broke the story.

“You’re tired of him; what about me?” Obama replied. “I have to deal with him every day.”

Wilgoren reported from Washington. Staff writer Felicia Sonmez in Washington contributed to this report.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.