WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Barack Obama, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s globe-trotting evasion of U.S. authorities has dealt a startling setback to efforts to strengthen ties with China and raised the prospect of worsening tensions with Russia.
Indeed, Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday called U.S. demands for Snowden’s extradition ‘‘ungrounded and unacceptable.’’
Relations with both China and Russia have been at the forefront of Obama’s foreign policy agenda this month, underscoring the intertwined interests among these uneasy partners. Obama met just last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland and held an unusual two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California earlier this month.
Obama has made no known phone calls to Xi since Snowden surfaced in Hong Kong earlier this month, nor has he talked to Putin since Snowden arrived in Russia.
Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said it wasn’t clear that Obama’s ‘‘charm offensive’’ with Xi and Putin would matter much on this issue. The U.S. has ‘‘very little leverage,’’ she said, given the broad array of issues on which the Obama administration needs Chinese and Russian cooperation.
‘‘This isn’t happening in a vacuum, and obviously China and Russia know that,’’ said Harman, who now runs the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Both the U.S. and China had hailed the Obama-Xi summit as a fresh start to a complex relationship, with the leaders building personal bonds during an hour-long walk through the grounds of the Sunnylands estate. But any easing of tensions appeared to vanish Monday following China’s apparent flouting of U.S. demands that Snowden be returned from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to face espionage charges.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, in unusually harsh language, said China had ‘‘unquestionably’’ damaged its relationship with Washington.
‘‘The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust,’’ Carney said. ‘‘We think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there is a problem.’’
A similar problem may be looming with Russia, where Snowden arrived Sunday. He had been expected to leave Moscow for a third country, but the White House said Monday it believed the former government contractor was still in Russia.
While the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, the White House publicly prodded the Kremlin to send Snowden back to the U.S., while officials privately negotiated with their Russian counterparts.
‘‘We are expecting the Russians to examine the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden for his return to the United States,’’ Carney said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday bluntly rejected the U.S. request, saying Snowden hasn’t crossed the Russian border. He angrily lashed out at the U.S. for warnings of negative consequences if Moscow fails to comply.
‘‘We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable,’’ Lavrov said.
During a stop in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry responded by saying the United States is not looking for a confrontation with Russia.
Speaking at a news conference in Jiddah, Kerry said that while it’s true the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, Moscow should comply with common law practices between countries concerning fugitives. ‘‘I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness,’’ Kerry said. ‘‘We would hope that Russia would not side with someone who is ‘a fugitive’ from justice.’ ‘‘
The U.S. has deep economic ties with China and needs the Asian power’s help in persuading North Korea to end its nuclear provocations. The Obama administration also needs Russia’s cooperation in ending the bloodshed in Syria and reducing nuclear stockpiles held by the former Cold War foes.
Members of Congress so far have focused their anger on China and Russia, not on Obama’s inability to get either country to abide by U.S. demands. However, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said in an interview with CNN on Monday that he was starting to wonder why the president hasn’t been ‘‘more forceful in dealing with foreign leaders.’’
Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, echoed that concern on Tuesday, telling CNN that ‘‘we've got to start dealing with Vladimir Putin for what he is.’’Continued...