BURBANK, Calif. – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he was “disappointed” that Russia granted temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Obama administration demands that the former government contractor be sent back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
Obama, in his first comments about Snowden since Russia’s decision last week, 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 during an interview with NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
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.”