President Obama suggested to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev today that he will have more room to scale back U.S. missile defense plans once he is no longer answerable to voters.
Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the conversation was heard accidentally as reporters were entering a room to listen to remarks by the two leaders.
The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders.
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
Russia is claiming to be “exasperated” over U.S. plans to install an anti-missile shield in Europe. The United States says the missiles are to defend against Iran, not Russia.
But Eastern Europe views the plan as a way to help ensure its defense against Russia. Obama presumably would not want to anger sizable Eastern European voting blocs in key presidential battleground states in the Midwest by making drastic changes to the program before the election. Nor would he want to open himself to the charge from his Republican adversary that he’s weak on defense.
A White House official sought to explain the remarks by saying “there is a lot of rhetoric around this issue.”
Russia has historically sought to roll back U.S. missile defense plans, starting during the days when Ronald Reagan began to advance the idea.
H/T to Politico’s Playbook, where I first saw this.