WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday praised Russia’s cooperation as it hit back against fresh charges by rival Mitt Romney that President Barack Obama has shown “breathtaking weakness” toward Moscow.
The comments were the latest salvoes in a row over Russia policy, triggered after Obama was caught on an open microphone telling President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more flexibility over a controversial missile defense program once the US election in November is over.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest rejected accusations by Romney, the Republican Party frontrunnner to challenge the Democratic president, that Obama had nothing to show for his overtures to repair relations with Russia.
“You don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al-Qaeda,” Earnest told reporters.
“The irony is that Russia, particularly in the cases of North Korea and Iran, (has) worked very well with the international community to isolate those two regimes and to seek a diplomatic solution to hold those two regimes accountable for living up to their international obligations,” Earnest said.
Obama was heard telling Medvedev that the upcoming election left him little room for maneuver to address Moscow’s objections to the US missile shield.
Russia has supported efforts at the UN to pressure North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs, though the United States has been more critical of Russia over Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad counts on Moscow as his main diplomatic ally and arms provider as he crushes a year-long uprising.
Medvedev has also criticized Romney, accusing him of resorting to Hollywood stereotypes after the former governor of Massachusetts said that Russia was “without question our number one geopolitical foe.”
Explaining his views in an opinion article on the website of Foreign Policy magazine, Romney said that Russia was attacking him because it preferred to do business with the “pliant” Obama.
“In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness — and given the word ‘flexibility’ a new and ominous meaning,” Romney wrote.
Romney attacked Obama for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his victory in recent presidential elections, polls that activists said had irregularities.
Obama’s remarks “undercut all those in Russia who are risking so much to struggle for the universal rights that we ourselves enjoy. They are a shameful betrayal of our country’s first principles,” Romney wrote.