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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Obama cancels Putin meeting over Snowden asylum

     The US and Russian last leaders met at a G8 summit in June

US President Barack Obama has cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia's decision to grant asylum to intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, the White House said.

But Mr Obama will still attend the G20 economic talks in St Petersburg.

A White House aide said Mr Snowden's asylum had deepened the pre-existing tension between the two countries.

The Kremlin said it was disappointed by the move and that the invitation to bilateral talks remained in force.

Mr Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, has admitted leaking information about US surveillance programmes to the media.

'No patience'

The decision to cancel the talks, announced during a trip by the president to Los Angeles, comes the morning after Mr Obama said he was "disappointed" with Russia's decision to offer Mr Snowden asylum for a year.


Jonathan Marcus

BBC diplomatic correspondent

Relations between Washington and Moscow were not good, with divisions over a range of issues - not least Syria - even before the fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden pitched up at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. They certainly have not got any better since the Russian authorities granted him temporary asylum in the country.

If Mr Snowden had gone swiftly on his way, then this might have remained just another irritant in US-Russia relations. But now the Americans have felt compelled to respond. That is going to make the G20 gathering itself in St Petersburg a potentially embarrassing affair.

The fallout over the Snowden affair is a symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in US-Russia relations that has continued despite the effort during Mr Obama's first term to "reset" relations with Moscow. These are no longer equivalent powers and they have so far not found a way to co-operate on terms that benefit both.

"We have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia Summit," the White House said in a statement.

In addition to Russia's "disappointing decision" to grant Mr Snowden temporary asylum, the White House cited a lack of progress on issues ranging from missile defence to human rights.

"We believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," the White House said.

The decision to cancel the US-Russia summit comes the day after Mr Obama appeared on an evening chat show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in which he condemned a newly enacted anti-gay law in Russia.

"I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," Mr Obama said.

But the White House reaffirmed Mr Obama's commitment to attending an upcoming round of G20 economic talks, which take place on 5-6 September in the Russian city of St Petersburg.

In the wake of the announcement, Mr Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said it was clear the US had cancelled the meeting over the Snowden affair.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Mr Ushakov added the Kremlin was disappointed by the move and that the invitation for talks remained open.

"Russian representatives are ready to continue working together with American partners on all key issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda," Mr Ushakov said.

Espionage charges

Mr Obama and Mr Putin last met in June, on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Mr Snowden, an American former National Security Agency (NSA) technical contractor and CIA worker, in June leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers documents and details relating to NSA programmes that gather data on telephone calls and emails.

Mr Snowden, 30, fled his home in Hawaii, where he worked at a small NSA installation, to Hong Kong, and subsequently to Russia. He faces espionage charges in the US.

He spent about a month in a transit area of the Moscow airport as the US pressured other countries to deny him asylum. On 1 August, he left the airport after the Russian government said it would give him asylum there for a year.

Source: BBC News