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Obama: U.S. Pausing To Reassess Relations With Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold talks in Mexico in June 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama says Washington is pausing to reassess relations with Russia in the midst of what he called "backward" thinking by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking in Washington on August 9 after canceling an upcoming meeting in Russia with Putin, Obama told reporters that he had been trying with "mixed success" to encourage Putin to “think forward instead of backwards.”

Obama said progress was being made in U.S.-Russian relations until Putin regained the Russian presidency in 2012.

"There's been a lot of good work that has been done and that is going to continue to be done,” Obama said.

"What's also true is that when President Putin, who was prime minister when [Dmitry] Medvedev was president, came back to power, I think, we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American that played in some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia, and I've encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards with mixed success."

Obama said key "emerging differences" with Russia are over issues like Syria’s civil war, human rights, and Russia’s antigay legislation.

Moscow also has angered Washington by granting temporary asylum to former security analyst Edward Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. federal prosecutors for leaking national security secrets.

"I think the latest episode is just one more in a number of emerging differences that we've seen over the last several months around Syria, around human rights issues, where it is probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia's going, what our core interests are," Obama said, "and calibrate the relationship so that we're doing things that are good for the United States and hopefully good for Russia as well, but recognizing that there's just going to be some differences -- and we're not going to be able to completely disguise them."

Obama added that "nobody is more offended" about antigay legislation in Russia. But the U.S. president said he didn't think it is appropriate for the United States to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold, or silver, or bronze," Obama said, adding that such victories by gay athletes “would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there."

More Transparent Surveillance

Obama also told reporters in Washington that U.S. surveillance efforts must be "more transparent."

He said he had directed the U.S. intelligence community to make public as much information about its surveillance programs as possible.

Obama also announced that an independent group will review U.S. surveillance methods to ensure that antiterrorism intelligence efforts are in accordance with U.S. interests and values.

"So, all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values," Obama said.

"And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he said. Our intelligence is focused, above all, on finding the information that is necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies."

The review group is due to issue an interim report on the National Security Agency's surveillance and intelligence gathering methods in early October.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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