Today, President Obama played down his hot mic moment with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that set-off a firestorm yesterday.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama, taking part in what he thought was a private conversation, told the Russian yesterday. Then, the president said, "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." Many were concerned by what the president was suggesting.
Well, today, speaking with a reporter in South Korea, here’s what Obama had to say about his private remarks (via pool reporter Mark Landler, with typos corrected):
"First of all, are the mics on?"
"What I said yesterday, Ben, is something that I think everyone in this room understands. Arms control is extraordinarily complex, very technical, and the only way it gets done is if you can consult and build a strong understanding, both between countries and within countries. And, when you think about the New Start treaty that Dmitry and I were able to hammer out and ultimately get ratified, that was a painstaking two year process.
"I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia, and they're in the process of a presidential transition where a new president's going to be coming in a little less than two months."
"It was a very simple point, and one that I repeated when I spoke to you guys yesterday, which is that we're going to spend the next nine, 10 months trying to work through some of the technical aspects of how we get past what is a major point of friction, one of the primary points of friction between our two countries, which is this whole missile defense issue."
"It involves a lot of complicated issues. If we can get out technical teams to clear out the underbrush, hopefully in 2013, there's a foundation to actually make some significant progress on this and a lot of other bilateral issues."
"I think every body understands -- if they don't, they haven't been listening to my speeches -- that I want to reduce nuclear stockpiles. 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. I'm on record, I made a speech about it to a whole bunch of Korean university students yesterday. I want to see us over time gradually, systematically reduce reliance on nuclear weapons."
"As Dmitry [Medvedev] said, the United States and Russia, because of our history and because we are nuclear superpowers, have a special obligation. That doesn't make it easy because both countries are committed to their sovereignty and their defense."
"The 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."