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Obama Cancels Meeting with Russian President

President Barack Obama has canceled a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was supposed to take place next month before the G20 summit in Russia.
For a U.S. president who made the "reset" of relations with Russia a major foreign-policy priority, the sharp diplomatic rebuke to Putin marks a pivotal point for his relations with the Russian leader and the overall bilateral relationship.

A White House statement said that after a "careful review" it was determined there was "not enough recent progress" in the bilateral agenda to hold the summit in early September.

The statement noted key areas on which Washington and Moscow have cooperated, including the New START [nuclear arms reduction] Treaty, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.

But it said that given the lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues and human rights, it would be "more constructive to postpone the summit."

In Russia, President Putin's foreign affairs adviser said Obama's decision reflected the United States' inability to develop relations on an "equal basis." Yuri Ushakov added the Obama invitation to visit Moscow still stands and Russia remains ready to continue working on all key issues.

Snowden controversy

But the biggest recent issue in relations was Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked details of U.S. electronic surveillance programs.

Russian President Putin rejected the U.S. request to expel Snowden to face U.S. espionage charges.

The White House statement called the issue a "factor" considered in assessing the current state of the bilateral relationship.

In an appearance Tuesday night on NBC-TV's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama said he was "disappointed" when Russia granted asylum to Snowden, saying it reflected some "underlying challenges" with Moscow.

He cited Russian cooperation on counter-terrorism, including after the Boston bombings, and supply lines for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he said there have been times when Russia slipped back into "Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality."

In Washington, Anthony Cordesman, a foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he thought the White House decision was aimed at a domestic audience, and that it did not advance the relationship.

"I can’t help but think that a lot of this is American domestic politics," said Cordesman. "That if you had a less partisan Congress, a less extreme political climate, the United States would take the lesson from the entire Cold War, when we faced a much more serious problem with the former Soviet Union. You talk. You do not send a message that is meaningful by not communicating, by not meeting," he said.

The White House issued a separate statement Wednesday saying the president will travel to Sweden before the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, which he will still attend.

Calling Sweden a "close friend and partner" of the United States, it said talks will focus on on U.S. - EU trade and investment and other issues.

As assessments are made of damage to relations from the summit postponement, previously scheduled talks that Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plan to hold in Washington with their Russian counterparts will go ahead.

The White House said those discussions will assess how the two sides can "best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues" in the bilateral relationship.

Syria continues to be one major issue of disagreement. Russia continues to support President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against rebels. The United States is providing the rebels with small arms and other support.

There has been little progress toward convening an international conference that would involve the Assad government and the Syrian rebel coalition. The death toll in Syria is now estimated at more than 100,000.

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