Obama Stays Away from Putin’s Summit After Putin Skipped Obama’s

By Patrick Goodenough | September 7, 2012 | 4:21 AM EDT

Russian President Vladimir Putin touches the tentacle of an octopus at an oceanarium in Vladivostok, venue of the APEC summit, on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

(CNSNews.com) – Evidently piqued about President Obama’s decision not to attend an Asia-Pacific summit he is hosting this weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin is not planning to hold a substantive meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is representing the United States in Obama’s absence.

Putin aide Yuri Ushakov said Thursday Putin would have a brief discussion with Clinton during a reception for top-level summit guests in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

By contrast, the Russian leader will hold “about 15” bilateral meetings with leaders from other Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members.

This is the first time Russia is hosting a summit since it joined the grouping of Pacific Rim countries in 1998, nine years after APEC was formed.

American presidents have traditionally attended APEC’s major summit each year. President Bush even went to the 2001 gathering in Shanghai, although it was just six weeks after al-Qaeda’s attack on America. (The campaign against terrorism dominated the meeting.)

The last time a president skipped an APEC summit was in 1998, when President Clinton dispatched Vice-President Al Gore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in his place. Clinton also sent Gore in his stead to the 1995 event in Osaka, Japan, drawing criticism in the region.

This year, Obama sent Clinton because the summit is taking place on the heels of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., which the president addressed on Thursday night. Charlotte is some 6,600 miles from Vladivostok.

Obama’s decision to stay away comes four months after Putin declined to attend a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, hosted by Obama at Camp David, Md.

Putin said he was too busy forming a new cabinet, and instead sent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Two weeks later, Putin made his first state visit abroad since his return to the Kremlin – to Belarus.

Obama eventually met with Putin – for the first time in the Russian’s capacity as president – the following month, on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Ushakov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Putin’s exchange with Clinton in Vladivostok would likely deal with the Syrian conflict, and also possibly touch on the American election campaign.

“Maybe, she will share her impressions of the domestic policy developments [in the United States],” he said. “The Republican congress is over, the Democratic convention will either be over or about to be completed.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell discounted a reporter’s suggestion that the decision not to hold a proper meeting with Clinton amounted to a snub.

“I wouldn’t read a lot into some of the things you just said,” he said. It’s political season here in the U.S., and so the president wasn’t able to go there. The relationship is strong.”

He did not want to speculate a couple of days in advance “what kind of meeting might transpire” in Vladivostok.

Asked how he would characterize the current state of U.S.-Russian relations, Ventrell said Obama’s “reset” of ties with Moscow “has obviously reaped important dividends, and that’s been important in terms of our relationship.”

“We have some areas that we definitely disagree on, no doubt Syria at the top of those, but we continue to have a productive relationship with the Russian Federation.”

Before leaving for Vladivostok, Putin told Russian television he views Obama as a sincere, while expressing ambivalence about the possibility of a Mitt Romney victory in November. (See Related Story)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow