Obama Medvedev - AP - March 26, 2012
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, chats with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a bilateral meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, March, 26, 2012. Photo by AP
Text size

U.S. President Barack Obama has gotten in trouble before for being caught on tape with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, criticizing Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – but a similar incident that took place on Monday with the Russian President may have more serious ramifications for the president – after all, this is an election year.

During a global nuclear security summit in the South Korean capital Seoul, Obama urged Moscow to give him "space" until after the November ballot, and President Dmitri Medvedev said he would relay the message to incoming Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The unusually frank exchange came as Obama and Medvedev huddled together on the eve of a global nuclear security summit in the South Korean capital, unaware their words were being picked up by microphones as reporters were led into the room.

Leaning toward Medvedev, Obama was overheard asking for time - "particularly with missile defense" - until he is in a better position politically to resolve such issues.

"I understand your message about space," replied Medvedev, who will hand over the presidency to Putin in May.

"This is my last election ... After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said, expressing confidence he will win a second term.

"I will transmit this information to Vladimir," said Medvedev, Putin's protégé and long considered number two in Moscow's power structure.

In an election year, such an incident may plague Obama. His Republican rival Mitt Romney has already demanded to know what the president meant by "flexibility." Romney's campaign said that Obama's message "signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term.”