Obama scraps summit with Putin

Fallout unclear on U.S., Russia ties

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LOS ANGELES -- President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin reflects the White House's growing frustration with the Russian government over its embrace of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, as well as its reluctance to engage over a host of issues that are key to the relationship.

The decision to cancel the talks, announced Wednesday during Mr. Obama's trip to Los Angeles, came after he had told television comedian-host Jay Leno in an interview the night before that he was disappointed by Russia's decision to give temporary asylum to Mr. Snowden, who faces espionage charges at home after divulging information about U.S. government surveillance programs.

The rebuke, which came after a year of deteriorating relations between the superpowers, was viewed as an indication that the White House doesn't see much gain for Mr. Obama, with Moscow resisting efforts to engage in talks over issues that include a new nuclear arms treaty, trade and investment.

"There will be a temptation to say this was due to Snowden. That was a minor factor," said Steven Pifer, a Russia specialist at the Brookings Institution, a Washington research center. Mr. Pifer added that it became apparent in recent weeks that Moscow was unwilling to move on any of the U.S. priorities. "The question became why go to Moscow when there's no progress on issues important to the White House, and when you'd probably get some political grief at home because of Putin's domestic repression and the Snowden case. So they decided to pull the plug."

But canceling the meeting is unlikely to result in the administration's desired effect: cooperation from Mr. Putin, said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute on Russia. "This is not the way you get results, by whacking them on the knuckles," Mr. Rojansky said. "We're starting to push pretty close to a line of deep violation of diplomatic protocol. It's a pretty deep affront."

He noted that the United States needs Russian cooperation on various concerns, including counterterrorism efforts, Iran's nuclear program, Syria's civil war and as a supply line as NATO troops leave Afghanistan.

Mr. Rojansky said the decision to call off the summit might have broader implications after a year of rocky relations and difficulty moving legislation through Congress. "This is a White House that's now thinking, 'Damage control, back out, don't throw good money after bad,' " he said.

There was little to no domestic backlash for Mr. Obama from the decision. A bipartisan chorus of lawmakers who are angry with Russia over Mr. Snowden applauded the move.

"This should help make it clear that the Russian government's giving Edward Snowden 'refugee' status is unacceptable," said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.

Human rights groups praised the decision, citing Mr. Putin's campaign against civil society groups, the banning of U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans and the prohibition of gay pride events and gay adoptions.

The White House had said since Mr. Snowden gained asylum a week ago that it would review the "utility" of the summit. Press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the review had determined that "there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia."

In a statement, Mr. Carney said there had been little movement on a host of issues, including missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security, human rights and civil society, and that the United States thought that "it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda."

The White House said Mr. Obama would attend the Group of 20 economic summit of leading rich and developing nations in St. Petersburg in early September, but rather than meet with Mr. Putin in Moscow as planned, he would travel to Sweden.

The Kremlin said it was disappointed, but that the invitation for Mr. Obama to visit still stood. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted presidential aide Yuri Ushakov as saying the U.S. decision was tied to Mr. Snowden.

"This situation illustrates that the U.S. is not ready to build equal relations with Russia," Mr. Ushakov said. "The invitation remains in force. We're ready to further work with American partners on key bilateral and international issues."

But experts in U.S.-Russian relations say U.S. officials report that Russia has not been willing to cooperate on those issues.

Nevertheless, conversations between the two sides will continue: Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their Russian counterparts Friday in Washington, a sign that Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said indicated that neither side "wants to give up on the relationship."



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