US President Barack Obama may cancel his scheduled visit to Moscow in September to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, as the standoff continues over fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the agency's massive global surveillance programme.
While there was no official word from the White House, which evaded questions on the issue, reports in major US newspapers on Thursday said that government is thinking of cancelling the Obama-Putin meeting, scheduled before the G-20 Summit in St Petersburg.
Snowden has been holed up in a Moscow airport for nearly four weeks now. Russia has refused him asylum, which means he is stuck at the airport; but at the same time Putin has refused to extradite him.
"President Obama's scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September is in limbo because of uncertainty surrounding National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia and is seeking asylum there," The Washington Post reported.
The New York Times also reported that Obama's trip may be cancelled over the Snowden affair. While Putin has made it clear that he does not want the issue to cloud bilateral ties, this is exactly what may happen as the US puts every possible pressure on foreign countries – currently Russia – to get the fugitive back for trial on espionage charges.
Both papers pointed out that relations between the two countries are already strained over various issues, including the ongoing conflict in Syria, disputes over nuclear weapons and concerns about the Putin government's treatment of dissidents.
On the human rights issue, Snowden is seen by Moscow as something of a trump card; it is crowing that the US can hardly take a high moral ground given its treatment of Snowden.
This would be the second time that Obama-Putin meeting may be cancelled. Last year, when Obama hosted the Group of 8 Summit at Camp David, Putin did not come saying he was too busy in Moscow finalising his new cabinet.