Obama and Medvedev conversation at Seoul

Russian President Medvedev met yesterday (Monday) with American President Obama in Seoul during the International Nuclear Security Summit. The two men met and then exchanged remarks at the conclusion of their brief talks.

President Obama (left), Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov (centre) and President Medvedev (right).

President Medvedev said, “My colleague Barack Obama and I have once again had a constructive discussion of the various issues on the international agenda and on bilateral cooperation between the Russian Federation and the United States.”

“I said that although there are varying assessments of the reset in relations that has been much spoken about over these last three years, I think that we have accomplished very useful work over this time. These have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade. We achieved a lot, starting with the New START Treaty and ending with our cooperation on the most sensitive international issues.”

“I particularly want to thank the President of the United States for all of his effort and support in helping the Russian Federation to join the World Trade Organization. This was very important for us. We hope to be able to soon resolve the remaining issues in this area, including that of the Jackson-Vanik amendment. The Russian Federation is very keen to make progress here. I think that American companies and America’s people would also stand to benefit from this, especially during this time of economic instability.”

Left to right: President Obama and President Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea. The two men last met in November 2011 in Honolulu.

American President Barrack Obama expressed his satisfaction with the meeting in saying, “Well, first of all, let me just say that the last three years of my work with President Medvedev has been extremely productive. And he listed some of the achievements that has resulted from this work – the New START Treaty reduces our nuclear stockpiles in ways that can help create greater peace and security not just for our countries but for the world, and is consistent with our obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

“Russia’s ascension into the WTO can open up trade and commerce between our two countries that can create jobs and economic growth for both Russians and Americans. And as Dmitry mentioned, we think it’s going to be very important for us to address Jackson-Vanik so that American businesses can fully take advantage of an open and liberalized Russian market.”

“It is true that there have been times where we have had to manage tensions between our countries, and that’s to be expected. Obviously, there are always tensions between countries, and that’s certainly true given the long history of the Cold War between our two countries. But what I think we’ve been able to do is to ensure that rather than look backwards, we’ve been looking forwards.”

A rare moment thinking that microphones were turned off.

American media immediately seized upon some words caught live after the two men thought that microphones had been turned off.

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

President Medvedev: Yes, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I will have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir. I understand.

While both sides use translators for official purposes, President Medvedev understands and speaks English. Some will see this portion of their conversation as some sort of secret pact but in truth this kind of off the record conversation is frequent in diplomatic settings and often very constructive.

Others will take Mr. Medvedev’s comment “I will transmit this information to Vladimir” as some sort of proof that Medvedev has all along answered to Mr. Putin in matters of foreign policy. We must realize however that Mr. Medvedev will soon step down and communicating important diplomatic information to Russia’s new president Vladimir Putin is an important step in an orderly transition of power and diplomatic protocol.