Obama accused of 'caving' to Russians after nuclear mic gaffe

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev

US president says he can be more flexible on missile defence after the November election

LAST UPDATED AT 13:20 ON Tue 27 Mar 2012

REPUBLICANS have accused Barack Obama of planning to "cave" in to Russia over the controversial missile defence shield after the US president was overheard asking the Russians to give him "space" until after the November election.

Obama was whispering to outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at yesterday's nuclear summit in South Korea when, unaware the rogue mic was recording his words, he asked Medvedev to urge the incoming president, Vladimir Putin, to be patient.  

According to ABC News, Obama said: "On all these issues, but particularly missile defence, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space."

Medvedev replied: "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you."

Obama went on: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."

To which Medvedev responded: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir."

The exchange has been pounced upon by Obama's political opponents, who believe his policy to engage with Russia smacks of appeasement, The Guardian reports.

Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the Republican primaries, tried to spin the 'gaffe' to suggest the president might change other policies in his second term. "President Obama signalled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defence," said Romney. "But the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term."

Today, Obama promised that he would only negotiate with Russia after consulting with the Pentagon and achieving bipartisan support in Congress. However, reports The Daily Telegraph, he did suggest that the reaction to his remarks proved the point that now was not the time for sensitive diplomacy with Moscow.

"Frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations," said Obama. "I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that." · 

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