|Republican rivals have criticised the Democratic president, with Mitt Romney calling the remarks "troubling" [Reuters]
United States President Barack Obama has played down criticism of his candid, open-microphone chat with a Russian counterpart by assuring his critics he was not trying to "hide the ball" with his remarks.
Obama defended his actions on Tuesday, a day after having been caught on camera assuring Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, that he will have "more flexibility" in dealing with contentious issues after November's presidential election.
The comments, made at a global security summit in South Korea on Monday, came as the two leaders thought their microphones had been turned off before addressing reporters.
As he was leaning toward Medvedev in Seoul on Monday, Obama was overheard asking for time, "particularly with missile defense", until he is in a better position politically to resolve such issues.
The outgoing Russian leader confirmed that he understood his American counterpart's calls for "space".
“This is my last election ... After my election I have more flexibility,” the American president said, in a statement that seemed to infer confidence that he would win a second four-year term in the fall.
“I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev said of Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister and president-elect of the Russian federation.
Front-runner in the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney, seized on Obama’s statement as "alarming and troubling".
“This is no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people,” Romney said in a campaign speech in San Diego.
But Obama pushed back, insisting he was not trying to "hide the ball" and had no hidden agenda with Russia over the planned missile shield.
Obama, in a speech on Monday, vowed to pursue more arms-control deals with Moscow as part of his broader nuclear disarmament agenda.
When asked about the comments on Tuesday, Obama said progress on complex arms control issues required dealings with the Pentagon and Congress to build bipartisan support and that 2012 was not a good year for that.
“The current environment is not conducive to these kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama said. “I think we’ll do better in 2013.”
Medvedev, at a separate press conference in the South Korean capital on Tuesday also tried to minimise Monday's comments.
“There’s a good period to resolve political issues. The best period is when all political forces are stable, regardless of who does what,” he said.
“So this is what we talked about. We have never concealed anything and President Obama could say this publicly or non-publicly.”