SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is not trying to “hide the ball” in negotiations with Russia over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe, trying to put to rest a controversy over comments to Russia’s leader that were picked up by an open microphone and quickly drew fire from Republican presidential contenders in America.
Republicans had pounced on Obama’s remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday that he would have more room to negotiate on the issue after the November presidential election, accusing the president of having a hidden agenda that could include concessions to the Russians if he is re-elected this fall.
Obama’s conversation was picked up by a microphone without either leader apparently knowing.
“This is my last election,” Obama was heard telling Medvedev, Russia’s outgoing president. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”
A day later, with election-year political machinery in full gear, Obama sought to clarify.
“I want to reduce our nuclear stockpiles. And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues,” he said while he and Medvedev made a separate announcement about nuclear materials cleanup on the sidelines of a major security conference here.
“And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball,” Obama said. “I’m on record.”