BURBANK, California (AP) — President Barack Obama said he was “disappointed” that Russia had granted temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying administration demands that the former government contractor be sent back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
In his first comments about Snowden since Russia’s decision last week, Obama said the move reflected the “underlying challenges” he faces in dealing with Moscow.
“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” Obama said on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” broadcast Tuesday night.
Snowden, an ex-NSA systems analyst, is accused of leaking details about highly secretive government surveillance programs. He spent several weeks in the transit zone of a Moscow airport before being granted asylum for a year.
Russia’s decision has pushed the White House to reconsider Obama’s plans to travel to Russia in September. He said he would attend an international summit in St. Petersburg, saying it was important for the U.S. to be represented at talks among global economic powers. But he did not say whether he planned to attend separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The White House has said it was evaluating the “utility” of the Putin meetings.
Obama also criticized a new Russian law cracking down on gay rights activism, saying he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
Russia has said it will enforce the law when it hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Asked whether the law would impact the games, Obama said he believes Putin and Russia have “a big stake in making sure the Olympics work.”
“I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Obama also discussed his recent lunch with Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. Clinton, who left the secretary of state post earlier this year, had a post-administration “glow,” Obama said.
But he sidestepped questions about whether she was planning to run for president in 2016.
“Keep in mind,” Obama said, “she’s been there before.”
Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed.