President Obama on Tuesday said he was “disappointed” by Moscow’s decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden but would attend next month’s G-20 summit in Russia.
“I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law-breaker or an alleged law-breaker in their country, we evaluate it, and we try to work with them. They didn’t do that with us,” said Obama in an interview on “The Tonight Show.”
But Obama said he would travel to Russia next month for a meeting of the world’s top industrialized nations hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I will be going to that,” said the president. “I will be going to that because the G-20 summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy, with all the top economic powers in the world. So it’s not something unique to Russia.”
It is unclear if Obama will attend scheduled one-on-one bilateral talks between U.S. and Russian leaders ahead of the summit.
Snowden is facing espionage charges in the U.S. after disclosing details of NSA secret surveillance programs. The former government contractor is in Russia, which granted him asylum for a year despite administration pressure to return Snowden to the U.S.
The move threatened to set back bilateral U.S.-Russia relations, with the White House suggesting Obama might skip private talks with Putin.
Obama said the Snowden decision highlighted the tensions in the relations between the two countries, and that Russia’s Cold War era mistrust of the U.S. had not disappeared.
“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,” he said.
Obama also played down suggestions he had an icy relationship with Putin. He said he had “pretty blunt exchanges and animated exchanges” in private discussions with Putin, but said the U.S. could still do business with Moscow.