SEOUL, South Korea - At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have "more flexibility" to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him "space."
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.
When asked to explain what President Obama meant, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes told ABC News that there is room for the U.S. and Russia to reach an accommodation, but "there is a lot of rhetoric around this issue - there always is - in both countries.
A senior administration official tells ABC News: "this is a political year in which the Russians just had an election, we're about to have a presidential and congressional elections - this is not the kind of year in which we're going to resolve incredibly complicated issue like this. So there's an advantage to pulling back and letting the technical experts work on this as the president has been saying."