After Russia today granted NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum for one year, top lawmakers in the U.S. Congress warned that the diplomatic move jeopardizes the bilateral relationship between the former Cold War adversaries and suggested that President Obama reconsider an upcoming trip to meet with the Russian president.
Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, called Snowden, who was stuck in a Moscow airport for 39 days, a “coward who has chosen to run,” and advised the president to reconsider an upcoming trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the G-20 summit early next month.
“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in a scathing statement. “Given Russia’s decision today, the president should recommend moving the G-20 summit.”
The White House had announced in June that Obama also intended to stop in Moscow to attend a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today the administration is now re-evaluating whether Obama will make the trip.
“I don’t have a scheduling announcement for you today but, obviously, this is not a positive development,” Carney said. “And we have a wide range of interests with the Russians, and we are evaluating the utility of a summit.”
Sen. John McCain, a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, called Russia’s decision a “disgrace” and a pointed move to “embarrass” the United States.
“It is a slap in the face of all Americans,” McCain, R-Ariz., wrote in a statement. “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia.”
House Speaker John Boehner said that while Snowden’s actions “have hurt the ability of our country to protect our citizens,” he is leaving it to Obama to “decide the best way to engage” Putin.
“I would hope that President Obama would engage President Putin on this issue and resolve it in a way that’s satisfactory to the American people,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I’ll let him decide.”
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said there’s “no doubt that the relations between Russia and the United States have not been on a positive track,” but “it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have continuing interface with the Russians because we have a lot of mutual interests that are very important to both countries.”
“The administration clearly has been in touch, has been in communication with the Russians, urged them not to give Snowden sanctuary,” Hoyer, D-Md., said.
Granting Snowden asylum is “not consistent with our request, and that will certainly not help the relations between the two countries.”
Asked whether the president should still meet with Putin, Hoyer said he did not want to “prejudge the president’s view,” but he pointed to President Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a historical example of positive developments that can come from engagement.
“Reagan said trust but verify. He could have said talk but make sure you protect your own interests,” Hoyer said. “[Reagan] believed that talk was important and that the objectives were important. We’ll see what the president thinks at this juncture.”