Barack Obama made his first comments about Edward Snowden since Russia granted him a temporary asylum last week during an interview with NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he was “disappointed” that Russia granted temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying his administration’s demands that the former government contractor be sent back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
“There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality,” Barack Obama said.
Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old ex-NSA systems analyst, is accused of leaking details about highly-secretive government surveillance programs.
He spent several weeks in the transit zone of a Moscow airport before being granted asylum for a year.
Russia’s decision has pushed the White House to reconsider Barack Obama’s plans to travel to Russia in September. He said he would attend an international summit in St. Petersburg, saying it was important for the U.S. to be represented at talks among global economic powers.
But the president did not say whether he planned to attend separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The White House has said it was evaluating the “utility” of the Putin meetings.
Barack Obama also criticized a new Russian law cracking down on gay rights activism.
Russia has said it will enforce the law when it hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics. Asked whether the law would impact the games, Barack Obama said he believes Vladimir Putin and Russia have “a big stake in making sure the Olympics work”.
“I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently,” the president said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Barack Obama touched on the closure of 19 embassies in the wake of the al-Qaeda terror alert.
He said that the U.S. was not overreacting with its decision and that Americans can still take their vacation in a “prudent way” by checking on State Department websites for up-to-day information before making plans.
Barack Obama added: “The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident, unfortunately.”
The administration was earlier today accused of behaving “like a bunch of cowards” following the embassy closures.
Louis Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, recalled the September 11, 2012, terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Barack Obama also lauded two of his former political rivals: former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.
Once bitter adversaries, Barack Obama and John McCain have deepened their ties in recent months. The Republican senator helped usher a White House-backed overhaul of U.S. immigration law through the Senate and most recently negotiated a plan to clear the way for votes on several stalled Obama nominees.
The president said that while he and John McCain still have significant policy differences, the Republican senator is “a person of integrity”.
But Barack Obama said jokingly that it’s probably not good for John McCain if the Democratic president compliments him on television.
The president also discussed his recent lunch with Hillary Clinton, his rival in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
Hillary Clinton, who left the State Department earlier this year, had a post-administration “glow”, Barack Obama said.
But he sidestepped questions about whether she was measuring the curtains in the White House for a possible 2016 presidential bid.
“Keep in mind, she’s been there before,” Barack Obama said.