Obama-Putin meeting at summit in jeopardy
President Obama's scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September is in limbo because of uncertainty surrounding National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia and is seeking asylum there.
In addition to the Snowden case, relations between the United States and Russia have become strained in recent weeks over the ongoing conflict in Syria, disputes over nuclear weapons and concerns about the Putin government's treatment of dissidents.
The White House announced in June that Obama would meet with Putin in Moscow around the time of the annual Group of 20 nations summit, which Russia is hosting Sept. 5-6 in St. Petersburg.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined repeatedly this week to say whether Obama still plans to visit Moscow.
“The president intends to travel to Russia for the G20 Summit,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And I have no further announcements to make beyond what we've said in the past about the president's travel to Russia in the fall.”
Pressed a second time, Carney acknowledged that he was being “deliberately vague.”
This would not be the first canceled Obama-Putin meeting. Last year, when Obama hosted the Group of 8 summit at Camp David, Putin stayed home, saying he was too busy in Moscow finalizing his new cabinet.
The United States has revoked the passport of Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified details of government intelligence and surveillance operations to journalists.
He has been staying in the transit zone at Moscow's airport for several weeks.
The Obama administration could be leaving the Moscow visit up in the air as negotiating leverage, hoping to persuade the Russians to help return Snowden to the United States, where he would face charges.
Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the White House's cancellation threat could be effective leverage over Putin, who likely wants to avoid an embarrassment on the world stage.
“When the spotlight of the world is on him and Russia, he doesn't want that spotlight to reveal a lot of negative things, which are going to be distractions,” Kuchins said.
Pulling the plug on the U.S.-Russia talks would deepen the tensions between the two leaders.