Sen. Portman: Obama’s Remarks to Medvedev ‘In That Context, It Does Concern Me’

Thomas Cloud | March 30, 2012 | 12:49pm EDT
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( – Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that President Barack Obama’s off-mic remarks to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about post-election “flexibility” on missile defense policy does “concern” him, but added that sometimes foreign leaders would discuss matters in this way when it came to trade policy and elections – Portman was the U.S. trade representative under George W. Bush in 2005-06.

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At the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, asked Portman, “Do you think it’s appropriate for a U.S. president to ask a foreign leader to give him some space during a U.S. election?”

Portman replied, “Oh gosh. You know, it depends on the context. You know, I have concerns about what happened last week -- whenever it was, week before last -- in the context of just having gone through this arms control debate here and having the administration make certain commitments. So I think in that context it does concern me.” then asked the senator, “But even, even outside of arms control, just simply asking a foreign leader to, to give him some space during a U.S. election, is that, is that appropriate?”

To which Portman responded “Well, it depends what he means by that. You know, if it’s a substantive issue, you know it’s concerning.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (AP Photo)

“We all, we all go through political seasons in our countries, those of us who are democracies,” he said, “and when I was U.S. trade representative [2005-06] sometimes you know, the countries that had elections coming up would say, you know, we’d like to get this through our process, our legislative process, because it’s an election year, it’s going to be more difficult than it would have been, then it would be to do in a non-election year.”

“That’s factual, there’s not something sort of inappropriate about that,” said Portman. “For us, you know, to get trade promotion authority is easier in a non-election year, as an example, than an election year sometimes. But again, that’s why it depends on the context and it depends on, you know, I suppose what he means, you know, by that. But this one concerned me.”

On Monday in Seoul, South Korea, President Obama, apparently unaware that the microphone in front of him was on, told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” in dealing with issues like missile defense after the U.S. elections. The exchange occurred as follows:

Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him [Putin] to give me space.”

Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you.”

Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

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