Cancellation Of Putin Meeting Highlights U.S.-Russia Tensions
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President Obama has canceled a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The decision comes not long after Russia announced it was granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden. He faces charges in the U.S. that he leaked secret documents on government surveillance programs. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, today's reversal is just the latest sign that U.S.-Russia relations are not in a good place.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The White House offered a long list of reasons why Obama is cancelling plans to visit Moscow after he attends an international economic summit in St. Petersburg next month. Ben Rhodes, a top foreign policy adviser, puts it this way.
BENJAMIN RHODES: We're not negotiating a further arms control, nuclear reduction agreement. We're not making progress on missile defense. We've seen, frankly, negative trends in terms of civil society and human rights in Russia. All of that formed the backdrop to the Snowden matter, which was clearly handled in a way that was disappointing to the United States.
KELEMEN: The Kremlin is expressing its own disappointment that Obama decided not to go to Moscow. A Russia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin, says little gets done in this relationship without high-level attention.
DMITRI TRENIN: The relationship, historically, is structured in a way that it needs a very serious push from the very top for the two bureaucracies to start collaborating in a meaningful way.
KELEMEN: And the two sides do have plenty to talk about, from Syria's civil war to Iran's nuclear program. But Samuel Charap, a former State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says he understands where Obama is coming from, having already tried to reset this relationship.
SAMUEL CHARAP: He's very results-oriented, and the reset, in its first two years, produced a lot of results. We had the new START arms control agreement. We had agreement on transit to Afghanistan. We had new sanctions on Iran and so on and so forth.
KELEMEN: But then that reset policy stopped producing results, and Charap says that Moscow has not responded positively to the Obama administration's ideas about cooperating on missile defense and cutting back U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
CHARAP: So you end up in a situation where there's not much to talk about, and then put on top of that the Snowden case.
KELEMEN: Across the political spectrum here in Washington, lawmakers and others called on Obama to cancel the summit, but not everyone agrees that it was the right decision. Matthew Rojansky runs the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.
MATTHEW ROJANSKY: Strategically it's a mistake. You know, Russia is not a country that reacts positively to being rapped on the knuckles that comes back and makes a better offer.
KELEMEN: And this White House should know better than most, Rojansky says, having found a way in its first term to get things done with Moscow.
ROJANSKY: The idea that engagement is a reward for countries doing what we want is very un-Obama, and so I'm surprised and disappointed by this.
KELEMEN: The administration is, though, going ahead with Cabinet-level talks with Moscow this week. Secretaries of State and Defense John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are hosting their Russian counterparts here in Washington Friday. And that makes sense says Georgetown University professor Angela Stent, author of a forthcoming book about U.S.-Russia relations.
ANGELA STENT: Ignoring Russia is not a strategy, but dealing with Russia on levels below that of the president's, you can move forward on a number of issues, but obviously you're not going to seal any major new deal, for instance, missile defense.
KELEMEN: Stent isn't calling for a new reset, but says it is time to push the pause button. As for the Snowden affair, she believes that will blow over soon, but it is another reminder of just how limited the U.S.-Russian partnership is these days. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
BLOCK: And Russia isn't the only foreign policy challenge on the president's mind. He spoke today before a group of Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, about the decision to close 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa in response to increased fear of an al-Qaida attack. He assured the crowd the United States is never going to retreat from the world.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're going to keep standing up for our interests. We're going to keep standing up for the security of our citizens. We're going to keep standing up for human rights and dignity for people wherever they live. We're going to keep working with our allies and our partners.
BLOCK: President Obama speaking today at Camp Pendleton in California.