President Barack Obama sought to defuse criticism Tuesday after a microphone caught him telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would have "more flexibility" to reach an agreement about a missile defense shield after the election.
Obama told reporters in Seoul, South Korea, that he wasn't "hiding the ball" when a microphone caught him saying, "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
He said that the current political climate was too polarized to reach an agreement with Russia about the building and operation of a U.S.-backed missile-defense system in Europe, which the Pentagon says would protect Western nations from growing threats from Iran and North Korea.
He even poked fun at the technical faux pas, joking at the beginning of the press conference, "First of all, are the mics on?" he said.
"I don't think it's any surprise you can't start a few months before a presidential and congressional election in the United States," he said, according to Politico, "and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia and they are in the process of a presidential transition where a new president's going to be coming in a little less than two months."
No matter how he puts it, Obama's comments aren't disappearing anytime soon.
Democrats Attack Romney
Democrats were worried enough about the private exchange to attack the foreign policy of Obama's likely GOP rival in the fall, Mitt Romney.
Soon after Romney called the off-the-cuff remarks "alarming and disturbing," the Democratic National Committee published a blog post on their site criticizing the former Massachusetts governor's stances on Afghanistan, Iraq and other issues overseas.
"Romney should know: waffling on Afghanistan, engaging in sloganeering on Iraq, stating that a president doesn't need any foreign policy experience, and describing George Bush as 'wise' does not exactly give the American electorate confidence that you're ready to be Commander in Chief," the DNC wrote in the post.
As Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller points out, the Obama campaign's press secretary also released a series of tweets blasting Romney on foreign policy.
"Alarming and Troubling"
The response comes after Romney and other Republicans slammed the president for not being clear about his foreign policy agenda. Romney told supporters at a rally Monday that the comments were "alarming and troubling."
"President Obama had a revealing and unguarded moment," Romney elaborated in a written statement. "President Obama signaled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in his second term."
The Republican National Committee also seized a chance to pounce on the comment and question Obama's motives, releasing an ad that included a Fox News report by Ed Henry.
"If all of a sudden ... the president is suggesting he'll have more flexibility after the election, does that suggest he'll be giving up more to Russia?" Henry says in the report.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich also weighed in.
"I'm curious, how many other countries has the president promised that he'd have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn't have to answer to the American people?" Gingrich said on CNN.
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