The White House today was guarded about yesterday’s UN meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Moscow may have said everything with its lack of punctuality.
The Kremlin issued a brief statement about the bilateral meeting: “Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Barack Obama held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.”
But Putin showed up 20 minutes late for the meeting.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest brushed this off when asked this morning on MSNBC if that angered Obama.
“Well, anybody who’s been around the U.N. during the General Assembly knows it’s total chaos inside that building so people are running late frequently,” Earnest said.
He said Obama started the meeting without Putin.
“We did start the meeting on time and the meeting ran long, and the meeting ran long because it was a generally constructive conversation,” Earnest said. “The president has described in the past that he has a business-like relationship with Vladimir Putin. This is actually the first time that I’d sat in on one of their in-person meetings. And the truth is, that’s exactly what it was like.”
“There was an opportunity for the two men to be quite candid and quite direct. It was not tense, it was not heated… But they were also candid about where they disagree.”
Speaking to PBS before the General Assembly, Putin didn’t seem to care one way or the other if he met with Obama.
“Well, that’s his choice. We’re always open to any contact on the highest level at the highest levels of ministries, agencies, intelligence services. But if the president finds a few minutes to meet me, that will be great. I’ll be happy to meet with him. But if due to circumstances he’s not able to do that, well, nothing to worry about. We’ll have a chance to speak at the Group of 20 meeting,” Putin said.
The Russian president added there’s “nothing extraordinary” about their interaction.
“Let me repeat. Any personal meetings are prepared as a rule by our staffs. We’re ready. But I’m telling you for third time now that does not depend on us. That does not depend on us. If the Americans want a meeting, we’ll have a meeting,” Putin said.
When Charlie Rose pressed him on the point again, Putin snapped, “How many years have you been working as a journalist?”
“It’s difficult for me to give you advice as to what you’re prepared for or not prepared for. Why do you think you can give me advice in regard to what I’m ready for or not when it’s not my first term as president?” the Russian leader said.
Asked what he thinks of Obama, Putin said, “I don’t think I’m entitled to give any views regarding the president of the United States. That’s up to the American people. We have good personal relations. We’re quite frank with each other. Our relations are business-like. I believe that’s quite sufficient to comply with our functions.”
The White House pool report after the Obama-Putin bilateral was subject-lined: “95 minutes of nyet.”