President Barack Obama was inadvertently heard over an open-mic telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more flexibility after his election. Republicans are using the gaffe to suggest that Obama would take steps that are politically unpopular if he were reelected.
"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved but it's important for [Vladimir Putin] to give me space," Obama leaned over to tell Medvedev as they were seated together at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Monday. "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
Medvedev responded, "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," referring to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, "and I stand with you."
Obama then gave Medvedev an affirming pat on the knee.
Obama was referring to the issue of missile defense in Eastern Europe, which Putin is opposed to. Obama's comments suggest that he will be more willing to negotiate on the issue if he is reelected in November.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) was quick to respond. A video posted on its website and YouTube channel says, "What Obama tells world leaders when he thinks you aren't listening ... ." It then shows news reports of the incident and says, "what else is on Obama's agenda after the election."
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney also responded with an open letter to Obama signed by 36 of his advisers published in National Review Online.
"Your inadvertently recorded remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in South Korea raise questions about whether a new period of even greater weakness and inconstancy would lie ahead if you are reelected," the letter states.
Obama countered that his desire to negotiate with Russia over missile defense is nothing new.
"I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before a presidential and congressional election in the United States," Obama told reporters in Seoul Tuesday.
Romney called the exchange between Obama and Medvedev "alarming and troubling" in a CNN interview and called Russia "without question, our number one geopolitical foe."
Medvedev took exception to that remark.
"My first advice is to listen to reason when they formulate their positions. Reason never harmed a presidential candidate," Medvedev chided.
"My other advice is to check their watches from time to time: it is 2012, not the mid-1970s," he said in reference to the Cold War.
Putin won the Russian presidential election earlier this month and will be sworn in in May.