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Obama hits back in Russia 'hot mike' row

27 March 2012, 11:09

Seoul - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday hit back at Republicans who pounced after he was overheard telling Russia's leader he could be more flexible over a missile defence row after November's election.

Obama, who is attending a nuclear summit in Seoul, complained that the volatile political environment in the United States was not conducive to in-depth consideration of delicate issues like defence and arms control.

"The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support," Obama told reporters.

"Frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations. I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that."

Republicans said Obama's comments in Seoul on Monday to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev - picked up by a live microphone - suggested that he planned to cave in to Moscow if re-elected.

Longstanding hurdles

"This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama was heard to tell the Russian leader, who promised to transmit the US president's position to president-elect Vladimir Putin.

Obama's most likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, immediately sought to make political capital out of the comments.

"President Obama signalled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defence, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term," said Romney, who was campaigning in California.

In Washington, the White House explained it was committed to implementing a missile defence shield in Europe despite Russian objections, but that longstanding hurdles meant it would take time to conclude a deal.

Washington and Nato argue that the shield is meant to protect Western nations against missile attacks from potential future nuclear powers such as Iran. Moscow fears the shield could undermine its own nuclear capabilities.



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