U.S. – Russia relations: Obama on Snowden and the Olympics

This past Friday in a press conference given in the East Room of the White House, US president Barack Obama made a number of statements concerning recent events and their effect on US – Russia relations.  Perhaps most notably, Obama addressed the NSA scandal and Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked the initial information which generated the controversy.   The NSA’s domestic and foreign surveillance program has received a lot of criticism from people, particularly those who feel that it’s a clear case of the Federal government extending their reach far beyond what many even suspected was taking place.  This of course pertains to the ongoing collection of metadata relating to phone records and the ability of certain individuals within these institutions to use said data in any number of ways unbeknownst to those being spied on, of course.

“Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives”, stated the President.  Obama went on to imply that if Snowden wants to convince everyone that his actions were justified, “he can appear before a court with a lawyer and make his case.”   Moving away from labeling Snowden as a hero, patriot, traitor, spy or whistle-blower, Barack Obama added that he could have taken another approach to expressing his concerns – one which perhaps wouldn’t have placed the NSA’s prism program (or the general well-being of the American public) in jeopardy.  “There’s no doubt Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than if I had simply appointed this review board”, stated the President.

With Snowden recently being granted a year’s worth of asylum in Russia, Obama also took some time to make it perfectly clear that he and his administration were not particularly ecstatic with the decision made by Russian officials.  “I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues with mixed success”, said Pres. Obama.  He further refined his sentiments by adding that, as Americans, we need to “take a pause” in order to fully”calibrate the relationship” with Russia.   More and more, Obama and US officials are “recognizing there are going to be some differences and we are not always going to agree.”   As he sees it, there has been far “more rhetoric on the Russia side that was anti-American.”

President Obama also had a few choice words with reference to the Olympics and Russia’s “anti-gay laws” which have upset quite a large number of people all around the world.   Instead of jumping in line to boycott the Olympics, the president offered up this bit of friendly cajoling, “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold, silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there.”

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