Obama Cancels Putin Summit Over Snowden, Syria, Human Rights

The meeting would have occurred around Obama's trip to St. Petersburg in early September to attend the G-20 Summit, which will be preceded by a presidential visit to Stockholm, Sweden.

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Larry Downing / REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama joins Jay Leno at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California, August 6, 2013.

President Barack Obama is bailing on a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month in Moscow over a growing rift between the two countries, administration officials confirmed Wednesday.

“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

The meeting would have occurred around Obama’s trip to St. Petersburg in early September to attend the G-20 Summit, which will be preceded by a presidential visit to Stockholm, Sweden. Obama said Tuesday night in an appearance on The Tonight Show that he was “disappointed” with Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum last month to admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The Obama administration has also clashed with Putin over his support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war. Obama has repeatedly stated that Assad must leave power.

“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality, and what I consistently say to them and what I say to President Putin is that’s the past, and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do,” Obama told host Jay Leno.

Obama and his administration noted instances where the United States and Russia cooperate. “However, given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” Carney said. “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our cooperation on these issues remains a priority for the United States, so on Friday, August 9, Secretaries Hagel and Kerry will meet with their Russian counterparts in a 2+2 format in Washington to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.”

On The Tonight Show, Obama also described his icy relationship with the Russian leader, the former head of the KGB. “Well, you know, the truth is that when we had meetings we could have some pretty blunt exchanges, animated exchanges, but that seems to be his preferred style during press conferences is sitting back and not looking too excited,” Obama said. “Now, part of it is he’s not accustomed to having press conferences where you’ve got a bunch of reporters yelling questions at you.”

Russia’s new law banning “gay propaganda” also played a role in Obama’s decision, according to administration officials. On Tuesday night Obama told Jay Leno, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” Obama has staked his legacy on expanding gay rights both in the United States and around the world. “One of the things I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly because that’s what we stand for, and I believe that that’s a precept that’s not unique to America. That’s just something that should apply everywhere,” he said.