Obama: I’m not ‘hiding the ball’ on defense shield talks with Russia

President Obama denied Tuesday that he is “hiding the ball” when it comes to negotiating with Russia over U.S. plans for a defense shield, saying his positions on the issue are “on record.”

A day after a live microphone picked up a private conversation where he asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for “space” and “patience” on the missile defense issue until after November’s election, Obama sought to clarify his remarks and make his position known.

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“I think everybody understands — if they don’t, they haven’t been listening to my speeches — that I want to reduce nuclear stockpiles,” Obama said Tuesday, on the final day of a nuclear security summit in South Korea. “And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues. And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball.”

Obama added, “[T]he only way I get this stuff done is if I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support, and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations.

“I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that,” he told reporters about the contentious political environment.


But the explanation Obama offered on Tuesday didn't satisfy Republicans.

"Conflating America's missile defense program and Russia's nuclear weapons stock is an attempt to confuse, not clarify to the American people and our allies," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "The president still has not explained what 'flexibility' on missile defense the Russians could expect in a second term, and we hope when he returns home we'll get a better explanation."

On Monday, after Obama made the unscripted comment to Medvedev, Republicans seized on the remark, accusing the president of undermining U.S. international security in an election year.


Within hours, the Republican National Committee came out with a new video called “After the Election,” questioning the president’s motives. “What else is on Obama’s agenda after the election that he isn’t telling you?” the video asks.

Obama did manage to poke fun of his “hot mic” moment on Tuesday. Before beginning a session at the Nuclear Security Summit where he greeted Medvedev, Obama tried not to repeat his gaffe.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Obama said, putting his hand over the microphone.

During a briefing with reporters, before Obama headed back to Washington, Ben Rhodes, the deputy nationa security adviser for strategic communications, was still answering questions on the matter.

"I think the president's point was simply that there was nothing he said in his comments after the bilateral meeting yesterday that is any different than what he said in other context," Rhodes said. "Insofar as there are people talking about this, that in and of itself is just a fact of the political context that we're in.

Rhodes said Obama's comments "made clear" his commitment to going forward with missile defense and pursuing an agreement with Russia, "which is something that he's talked about repeatedly."

This story was updated at 10:03 a.m.


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