President Obama Wednesday canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for early September, in a move widely considered to be a diplomatic snub after Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.
"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," the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement called Russia's decision to grant asylum to Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. on espionage charges for leaking classified documents on various U.S. surveillance programs, "disappointing" and acknowledged it "was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship."
Snowden was granted temporary asylum by Russia last Thursday, against U.S. requests. He is now allowed to travel freely through the country after being holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's international airport since June 23. His U.S. passport has been revoked, leaving him stateless.
President Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov expressed disappointment at Obama’s decision to cancel the meeting, NBC News reported. Ushakov told reporters that the decision to allow Snowden temporary asylum caused the dispute, and added that the invitation to visit Moscow in September still stands.
"There have been times where they slip back into Cold-War thinking and a Cold-War mentality," Obama said about Russian officials during an interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Monday. "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.”
“In some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately,” Obama said, adding that "a lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship," but a collection of smaller issues. “There’s still a lot of business that we can do with them.”
The White House said that Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their Russian counterparts on Friday in Washington.
Obama will still travel to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, the White House said. In place of his scheduled visit to Moscow preceding the summit, Obama will add a stop in Sweden.
A number of senators praised Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with Putin.
“President Putin is acting like a school-yard bully and doesn't deserve the respect a bilateral summit would have accorded him,” Democratic Sen. from New York Chuck Schumer said in a statement Wednesday.
Sen. John McCain, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has sparred with the Obama administration on foreign policy, agreed with the president’s decision, aides told NBC News. Aides cited a statement issued last week by McCain and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calling for more reforms in U.S.-Russia relations, centering on missile defense, NATO expansion, and human rights issues.