Obama Says He's More Worried About a Nuke in NYC Than He Is About Vladimir Putin

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 25 2014 1:18 PM

Obama Says Russia Is Weak and Romney Was Wrong

During a press conference today at this year's Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked President Obama if he thought "Mitt Romney had a point" when he labeled Russia America's top geopolitical foe back in 2012. You can watch Obama's attempt at a two-birds-one-stone response above, but here's the snippet that's getting the most attention:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"With respect to Mr. Romney's assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America's got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neigbors—not out of strength, but out weakness.
"Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the break-up of the Soviet Union. And we have considerable influence on our neighbors, we generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and laid bear these violations of international law indicates less influence not more.
"So my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is: Russia's actions are a problem. They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan."
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The "nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan" is obviously an attention-getting line, but keep in mind that was, at least partly, an attempt to bring the conversation back to the reason Obama was in the Netherlands in the first place. Calling Russia a "regional power," meanwhile, was a much more direct—and deliberate—shot at Vladimir Putin's ego.

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