The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Tracking the Issues: Obama Defends Remarks to Medvedev

by Newsteam Staff
March 27, 2012

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev U.S. President Barack Obama a thumbs up during the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii November 13, 2011 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev U.S. President Barack Obama a thumbs up during the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii November 13, 2011 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

The U.S.-Russia relationship was hauled into the campaign spotlight after a murmured conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev was picked up on-mic.

During the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, reporters overheard Obama ask Medvedev for some “space” on missile defense until after the election in November, when he will have more “flexibility” (WSJ).

Obama said the next day he has no hidden agenda on Russian policy (AP), saying he wants to work with Russia on the touchy issue of a missile defense shield in Europe and eventually more nuclear arms reductions, but it is slow going in an election year for both countries. “This is not a matter of hiding the ball. I’m on record,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any surprise that you can’t start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia, and they’re in the process of a presidential transition.”

The White House hopes to expand ballistic missile defense sites in Europe, including putting interceptor missiles and radar systems in Poland, which Russia opposes (Reuters). Obama has also said he hopes to further reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles, and negotiations are delicate.

GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney said Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe” (CNN) that routinely blocks U.S. attempts to put checks on the world’s “infamous actors,” through its position on the United Nations Security Council. “Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran,” Romney said. “Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage.”

For more information on the candidate’s stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on US-Russia Relations.

Suggested Other Reading:

The Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer recently offered recommendations for future engagement with Russia to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It remains in the U.S. interest to engage Russia where engagement can advance American policy goals,” he said. “In doing so, the United States will at times have to be prepared to take account of Russian interests if it wishes to secure Moscow’s help on questions that matter to Washington.”

CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich looks at what Vladimir Putin’s recent reelection as president of Russia means for Moscow-Washington relations.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi warns that progress on issues like missile defense and general Russia relations could suffer setbacks if the Syria and Iran crises deteriorate further.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discuss building trust with Russia.

– Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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