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Obama: Putin Sometimes Acts Like "Bored Kid"

Obama: Putin Sometimes Acts Like "Bored Kid"

By Alexis Simendinger - August 10, 2013

President Obama denied Friday that he has a "bad relationship" with Vladimir Putin, but he likened the Russian leader’s public behavior to that of a child.

"He's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom," the president said during a 53-minute East Room press conference.

It was an international put-down of the first order, especially in light of Putin’s carefully groomed image at home as a cross between James Bond and Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.”

“Russia has not moved” in response to repeated requests to extradite U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, among other sticking points in the two nations’ relationship, Obama said. He characterized his past conversations with Putin as “candid” and “blunt” and often “constructive,” but clearly not always productive.

Against U.S. objections, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum, and Obama insisted Friday that “Mr. Snowden was not a patriot” and should return to the United States to face felony indictments.

And beyond the Snowden issue, Russia continues to support Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and says it will enforce a controversial anti-gay law during the upcoming Olympics, despite international objections, the president noted.

As a result, the White House canceled a scheduled meeting with Putin in Moscow next month, although the president will attend the G-20 summit Sept. 5-6 in St. Petersburg. Obama told reporters he would not meet one-on-one with Putin because he thought the two countries should “take a pause and reassess where Russia is going.”

The president repeated his publicly expressed view that the Kremlin still suffers from a Cold War hangover -- a state of mind he said he’s tried to overcome with Putin. He said the U.S. and Russia would continue to work together on matters of importance, but the White House made clear this week that contacts between the two countries would take place at lower levels.

Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met Friday with their Russian counterparts in Washington to see if the “reset” in the relationship broached by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during Obama’s first term could be re-reset, as relations have soured during Obama’s second term.

The president said the United States would participate in the 2014 Olympics, although some lawmakers urged him to use the Winter Games as punishment. Obama said American athletes train hard and deserve to compete, and he suggested gay and lesbian advocates competing in the Sochi Olympics next February might take a stand against Russia’s new law -- which bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” -- if they brought home “a gold, silver or bronze” medal.

“I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” he volunteered while fielding questions posed by the Associated Press, NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, National Public Radio, and the Wall Street Journal. Rows of gold chairs were set up in the East Room, but in early August, with many reporters on vacation, a number of them sat empty.

Obama opened his Q&A session -- the fourth solo press conference of the year and the first since April -- with announcements of additional steps aimed at reassuring Americans, as well as U.S. allies, that U.S. intelligence surveillance programs have not run amok.

He acknowledged that many Americans question the intrusiveness, legality and potential abuse of data-gathering from phone and emails records, and said he would work with Congress and through a new task force he’s establishing to support legislation already brewing in Congress to add oversight, transparency and accountability to formerly secret data-gathering programs intended to thwart terrorists.

Obama insisted he favored additional disclosure and oversight long before Snowden, a former government contractor, leaked NSA secrets to The Guardian newspaper.

The White House had hoped initially to use Obama’s news conference to pitch him into the fall battles with Congress over his “middle class” economic policies, but the event began with a heavy dose of international affairs. Even so, the president was not asked about Syria or Egypt, and he did not mention his tax reform agenda.

Obama will begin a week-long vacation on Martha’s Vineyard Saturday evening, and when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 9, he said he will work to persuade Republicans to jettison across-the-board budget cuts, enact an immigration law this year, and quit voting to undercut the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (Obama called the GOP’s quest to derail the ACA its “holy grail.”)

Amid all that, he’ll nominate a new chair of the Federal Reserve. The president insisted his mind was not made up about whom he’ll select, but explained his hunt for a nominee who can emphasize the central bank’s mandate to bolster full employment and economic growth.

He also spoke of his comments in defense of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers late last month on Capitol Hill. Summers, who was Obama’s first White House economic adviser, is a candidate to succeed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke early next year. But the president clarified Friday that his praise for Summers was not meant as an endorsement for the Fed post, just a plug for a public servant who had done a good job and had come under fire. He also praised Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, whom he called “mister” before catching himself to call her “Ms.”

“They're both terrific people,” he said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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