President Obama shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Seoul —
U.S. politics combined with diplomacy as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev took a swipe at Mitt Romney and President Obama, pointing to an uncooperative Congress and a toxic political environment at home to explain why he was delaying negotiations with Russian leaders over missile defense.
Romney, in a CNN interview Monday, had referred to Russia as "our No. 1 geopolitical foe," prompting Medvedev to tell reporters here that the Republican front-runner's language seemed out of date and "smelled of Hollywood" stereotypes.
"Regarding ideological cliches, every time this or that side uses phrases like 'enemy No. 1', this always alarms me," he said Tuesday in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
"All U.S. presidential candidates" should "do two things," the Russian leader said. "Use their head and consult their reason" and "look at his watch: We are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.
The back and forth got started with an open-microphone incident Monday in which Obama could be heard telling Medvedev that he would have more "flexibility" to consider Russian concerns about U.S. missile-defense plans after November's voting.
"This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said.
"I understand," Medvedev responded. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir."
Republicans quickly pounced on those remarks, saying it was evidence that Obama, if reelected, would go soft on national security issues. Romney was highly critical, saying in the CNN interview that "Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage. And for this president to be looking for greater flexibility, where he doesn't have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia, is very, very troubling, very alarming."
On Tuesday, Obama returned fire, telling reporters as he wrapped up a three-day diplomatic tour here, that he was merely being realistic about the problems of dealing with a Republican Congress.
"The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support," Obama told reporters at the Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday. "And frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations."
There is not enough time in an election year to work out the complicated back and forth of a missile-defense deal given the "painstaking" process of negotiating, Obama said. But he quickly used the issue as an opportunity to return to themes that are driving his reelection effort – his fights against an intractable Congress and bitter political climate in Washington.
"I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before presidential and congressional elections in the United States," he said.
Democrats were quick to privately label Romney's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" remark as reckless, seeing it as a comment they can use to portray the Republican presidential hopeful as out of touch.
The DNC launched this Web video Tuesday afternoon that included that remark among others, mostly from the 2008 campaign, to paint him as "not ready to lead" on foreign policy.
Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report from Washington.