Obama caught on open mic making promises to Russia

President Barack Obama had to engage in some damage limitation yesterday after comments he made to Russia's leader were picked up by an open microphone.

In a conversation which both men thought was private, Mr Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more room to negotiate over US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe after the November presidential election.

"This is my last election," he was heard telling Mr Medvedev, who leaves office in May to be replaced by Vladimir Putin. "After my election, I have more flexibility."

The comments provoked a backlash from Republican presidential contenders, who accused him of being dishonest with the US public.

But Mr Obama insisted yesterday that he was not trying to "hide the ball" in negotiations with Russia.

"I want to reduce our nuclear stockpiles. And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and co-operation around missile defence issues," he said. Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev made a separate announcement about nuclear materials clean-ups on the sidelines of the Seoul summit meeting. "So this is not a matter of hiding the ball," Mr Obama said. "I'm on record."

The conversation between the two was picked up as they conferred quietly. According to ABC News, Mr Medvedev replied in English: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," an apparent reference to Mr Putin.