President Barack Obama may retaliate for Moscow’s decision to give NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum by canceling a planned summit early next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House warned Thursday.
Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the U.S. had no advance notice of Russia’s decision and that the president is “extremely disappointed.”
"He's not a dissident. He’s not a whistle-blower. He’s been charged with a crime,” the spokesman said of Snowden, stressing that Washington would keep pushing Moscow over the issue.
Obama had been scheduled to attend a Group of 20 countries summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 5-6 and hold a one-on-one meeting with Putin in Moscow beforehand. But Carney said that plan was now at risk.
“We are evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this and other issues, but I have no announcement today on that,” Carney said. “Our relationship with Russia, as is the case with other important countries around the world, is based in realism.”
Unless the White House is suddenly in the business of scheduling summits that have no “utility,” an Obama-Putin summit could have been expected to make progress on issues like confronting Iran over its suspect nuclear program, or paving the way for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan, or Middle East peace, or nuclear arms control, or Syria’s civil war, or energy issues or counter-terrorism. Carney did not explain how the Snowden decision reshuffled that diplomatic deck, or how scrapping the talks would affect those critical matters.
“There is no question that there are a range of issues — setting aside the disposition of Mr. Snowden — on which we are currently in a disagreement with Russia,” Carney said.
“We have, over the past four and a half years, engaged with Russia in a way that has tried to move forward where we disagree and to move even further forward in areas where we can come to an agreement,” he added.
But Obama believes that “there is a usefulness in engaging” countries with which the U.S. does not have “purely harmonious relations.”
Carney's comments came after Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a thundering joint statement on the latest Snowden development, declaring "now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin's Russia."
“Russia’s action today is a disgrace and a deliberate effort to embarrass the United States. It is a slap in the face of all Americans," the lawmakers said. "We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for."
The two lawmakers suggested steps like broadening a law that targets alleged human rights violators in Russia, stepping up U.S. missile defense work in Europe, expanding NATO to include the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, or challenging the politically fraught convictions of high-profile Putin critics.
"And perhaps most importantly, we should speak out on behalf of the many people in Russia who increasingly are finding the courage to peacefully demand greater freedom, accountability and rule of law in Russia," the senators said.
“Today’s action by Putin’s Russia should finally strip away the illusions that many Americans have had about Russia the past few years," McCain and Graham said. "We have long needed to take a more realistic approach to our relations with Russia, and hopefully today we finally start.”