(SEOUL, South Korea) — President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is not trying to "hide the ball" in negotiations with Russia over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe, expanding upon comments to Russia's leader that were picked up by an open microphone and quickly drew the ire of Republicans.
Obama said he wants to spend the rest of this year working through technical issues with the Russians and said it was not surprising that a deal couldn't be completed quickly. The shield is opposed by Russia in its current form and new talks that might lead to U.S. concessions are opposed by Republican in Congress.
Republicans pounced on Obama's remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, heard on an open microphone, that he would have more flexibility on the issue after the November presidential election. The conversation was picked up by a microphone without either leader apparently knowing.
"This is my last election," Obama was heard telling Medvedev, Russia's outgoing president. "After my election, I have more flexibility."
Medvedev replied in English, according to ABC News: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," an apparent reference to incoming President Vladmir Putin.
Obama said he gave a speech on his desire to make new nuclear cuts with Russia and "this is not a matter of hiding the ball — I'm on record." He said the political reaction to the open microphone comment underscored his point that this year is not conducive to a deal right now.
Obama made light of the flap at his next public meeting with Medvedev. Opening the nuclear security summit that brought both leaders to South Korea, Obama jokingly moved to cover his microphone as he and Medvedev took their seats. "Wait, wait!" Obama said, grinning.