"This is my last election,” Obama said, unaware that his remarks were being picked up. “After my election, I have more flexibility."
"I will transmit this information to Vladimir," said Medvedev, who will hand the Russian presidency over to Vladimir Putin in May.
The conversation was in regard to NATO’s plans for missile defense in Europe and the need for bilateral cooperation between the United States and Russia. Russia has expressed concern that the United States has not offered satisfactory guarantees that a European missile defense system would not be aimed against Russia, and the subject has increased tensions between the two countries.
The RNC also released a Web video focusing on the remarks.
“What Obama tells world leaders when he thinks you aren’t listening,” the ad says, before playing the video, in which Obama puts his hand on Medvedev’s arm.
“What else is on Obama’s agenda after the election that he isn’t telling you?” the video concludes.
GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney also jumped on the comments.
"The American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term,” Romney said in a statement. “Higher taxes, more spending and increased debt are all on the table as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, despite what he says publicly. President Obama needs to level with the American public about his real agenda.”
The criticism is similar to one leveled at Romney last week, after his campaign adviser compared the primary season to an Etch A Sketch toy that can be wiped clean once the general election campaign begins.
Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes responded to the incident in a statement, arguing that any negotiation has to take into account the realities of election year politics.
"Since 2012 is an election year in both countries, with an election and leadership transition in Russia and an election in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough," Rhodes said in a statement.
"Therefore, President Obama and President Medvedev agreed that it was best to instruct our technical experts to do the work of better understanding our respective positions, providing space for continued discussions on missile-defense cooperation going forward."
Alicia Cohn contributed.