WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping a planned visit to the United States this month, including an economic summit and a much-anticipated meeting with President Barack Obama, the White House announced Wednesday.
The Russian leader told Obama by phone that he is unable to join the other leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations meeting outside Washington on May 18-19 because he needs to finish work setting up his new Cabinet, the White House said. The Obama administration had moved the gathering to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland from the planned venue in Chicago partly to accommodate Putin.
Neither the White House nor the Kremlin had discussed the change in plans until Wednesday, but a White House official said National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was informed of it when he visited Putin and other Russian officials in Moscow last week.
Putin took power this week, returning after six years to a post he had previously held for two terms. He made sharp criticism of the United States a central theme in his election, but it is not clear whether he will pull back from cooperation with the United States in several areas begun by former President Dmitry Medvedev.
“The two presidents reiterated their interest in the sustained high-level dialogue that has characterized the reset of relations and the substantial progress of the last three years,” since Obama took office, the White House said in a statement outlining the phone call Wednesday.
Medvedev, who changed places with his mentor Putin as Russia’s prime minister, will fill in for Putin at the G-8 meeting, the White House said. Obama made headlines at his last meeting with Medvedev at a nuclear security summit in South Korea in March, when Obama was overheard saying he would have more flexibility to work with Russia on missile defense after the U.S. presidential election.
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