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Jewish World Review
March 28, 2012/ 5 Nissan, 5772
At the nuke summit an inadvertent moment of candor
Americans got a rare, unscripted look this week at the diplomacy that goes on backstage among world leaders, this time at a nuclear summit in South Korea.
Russia and the U.S. have two large, unresolved issues between them:
One is a U.S. missile defense system based in Europe that we say is for protection from Iran and any other rogue missile actors in the Mideast. The Russians suspect, despite repeated American assurances, the system can be potentially used against them.
The second issue is how to follow up the new START nuclear treaty with further arms reductions. But the Russians insist that the missile shield question be resolved first.
This is an election year in both countries. After sitting out a term as vice president, Vladimir Putin was again elected president in March and replaces Russia's current president, Dmitry Medvedev, in May.
President Barack Obama faces the voters in November, but he implied to Medvedev at the summit that he was reasonably confident of being reelected, and indicated that missile defense and arms reduction should be put on the back burner until after the election.
Unaware that his words were being picked up on an open mike, Obama told Medvedev, "On these issues, particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him (Putin) to give me space."
"Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you," said Medvedev, sounding like a "Seinfeld" character.
Later in the exchange, Obama said, "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
Medvedev, speaking in English, said, "I understand. I will convey this information to Vladimir," indicating the two friendly rivals are still on a first-name basis.
This hot-mike exchange was a gift from heaven for the Republicans, battered by a seemingly endless series of gaffes by their presidential candidates, and bracing for another beating over their treatment of Medicare in the House GOP budget resolution.
To sum up, the Republicans happily accused Obama of duplicitously having a secret second-term agenda involving a secret deal with the Russians to weaken our national security.
Two points about this: All presidents concentrate on foreign affairs in their second term and for basically the same reasons. In Obama's case, the Republicans will oppose on principle any domestic initiatives he proposes; the Democrats will be less inclined to follow the president's lead because he's a lame duck; and many of both parties will be jostling to be his successor.
In essence, the two leaders violated a basic rule of modern politics: Just as people handling firearms should assume every gun is loaded, politicians should assume ever mike is on.
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