U.S. President Barack Obama has cancelled a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.
The announcement was made by White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes on August 7. He said Russia's decision last week to grant temporary asylum to fugitive U.S. leaker Edward Snowden has exacerbated an already fraught relationship.
Rhodes said “it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment.”
U.S. officials want to try Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, on espionage charges for revealing details of large-scale U.S. Internet and phone-surveillance programs.
Last week, Russia granted Snowden asylum for one year. He had been stuck at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23, when he arrived in Russia from Hong Kong.
A meeting scheduled for August 9 in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, as well as each country's defense ministers, is still set to happen.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on August 7 that U.S. and Russian officials will try to find common ground on shared issues, but that the Americans won’t shy away from bringing up topics on which the two sides don't agree:
"We believe we need to continue to cooperate on areas where we can, where there is progress to be made in the world," she said. "And Iran and North Korea are both certainly good examples of that. But there are also areas, as I mentioned, like missile defense, human rights, certainly Edward Snowden, where we have disagreements, and those will be part of the discussion, as well."
Hours before the cancelation of the meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents was announced, Obama appeared on the talk show, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and told viewers that Moscow's decision in the Snowden case was indicative of the current difficulties in U.S.-Russian relations.
"I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there is a law-breaker or an alleged law-breaker in their country, we evaluate it and we try to work with them," he said. "They didn’t do that with us. And in some ways it's reflective of some underlying challenges that we've had with Russia lately."
The Kremlin said Russia was "disappointed" by the cancelation of Obama’s Moscow visit.
Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters that the U.S. decision was indicative of Washington's inability to develop relations with Moscow on an "equal basis."
"This decision is clearly linked to the situation with former agent of U.S. special services Snowden, which hasn't been created by us," Ushakov said.
Nonetheless, he added that the invitation to Obama to visit Moscow next month still stands.
Obama has confirmed he will still attend the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg on September 5 and 6 despite Moscow and Washington's current differences.
"I will be going to that because the G20 summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy, with all the top economic powers in the world," he said.
"So it's not something unique to Russia. They're hosting it this year, but it's important for us, as the leading economy in the world, to make sure that we're there."
'No Patience' For Discrimination
Obama also criticized Russia over a recent law criminalizing the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors, which critics say could legitimize widespread discrimination.
"When it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, you are violating basic morality that I think should transcend every country," Obama said.
"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."
However, the president said Moscow was being cooperative with the United States on some issues, including Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP