Obama’s Fall Moscow Trip Is Even More in Doubt

WASHINGTON — President Obama is even less likely to go through with a visit to Moscow this fall after Russia’s decision on Thursday to grant Edward J. Snowden temporary asylum. For Mr. Obama, though, the Snowden affair is only one of myriad reasons to beg off the scheduled meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin.

The dispute over Mr. Snowden, the fugitive intelligence contractor, is less a singular sore point between the United States and Russia than a symptom of a relationship that has soured across the board. Even without it, administration officials and analysts said, it was not clear what Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin would talk about — let alone agree on.

From the Syrian civil war and Iran’s new president to missile defense and nuclear arms reductions, the United States and Russia are miles apart on virtually every major issue they discuss.

The White House, which began debating last month whether to cancel the September trip, said Mr. Obama still had not made a final decision. “Obviously this is not a positive development,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney. “We are evaluating the utility of a summit.”

“There is no question that there are a range of issues, setting aside the disposition of Mr. Snowden, on which we are currently in disagreement with Russia,” he added.

The decline in the American-Russian relationship has been remarkably swift since Mr. Putin’s return to the presidency last year. Lately, it has taken on a tit-for-tat quality reminiscent of the cold war: Russia barred Americans from adopting Russian babies; the United States blacklisted 18 Russians accused of human-rights violations.

The Russian government gave the White House no advance notice of its decision on Mr. Snowden, Mr. Carney said, making it clear that weeks of public and private diplomacy had gone nowhere.

For a White House keen to extract concrete results from a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Putin, the differences on geopolitical and security issues are an equally compelling reason to scrap the meeting.

“If you look at the major issues — Syria, nuclear arms, missile defense — it doesn’t look like there would be anything to sign,” said Angela E. Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia who is now at Georgetown University. “The question is, What would they do?”

Mr. Putin, she said, does not appear interested in accelerating talks over reductions in nuclear stockpiles, which Mr. Obama made the centerpiece of his speech in Berlin in June. Mr. Putin continues to express suspicions that the American missile-defense system in Europe is targeted at Russia, even after it was modified by the Obama administration.

On Syria, the Russians have refused to abandon their support for President Bashar al-Assad. Some analysts said the shifting momentum of the battle in recent weeks would only reinforce their belief that they were right. Russia is also viewed as more open than the United States to dealing with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.

When Mr. Snowden first applied for asylum in Russia, Mr. Putin appeared to be trying to walk a fine line with the United States, warning Mr. Snowden that if he were granted permission to stay in the country, he could not disclose further classified documents.

“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition,” Mr. Putin said. “He must cease his work aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners, as strange as it may sound from my lips.”

By granting Mr. Snowden asylum, however, Mr. Putin was implicitly rejecting the White House’s contention, repeated Thursday, that Mr. Snowden is not a whistle-blower but a rogue contractor accused of a felony, who poses a huge risk to his nation’s national security.

Russian officials have told visiting Americans that harboring Mr. Snowden indefinitely in the transit area of Moscow’s airport was “beginning to look ridiculous,” and that there was no other option to move him, said Dmitri K. Simes, a Russia expert and president of the Center for the National Interest, a research center in Washington.

But he and Dr. Stent both said the decision reflected a more fundamental calculation by Mr. Putin not to accommodate Mr. Obama. “However important it would be to have his position validated by a presidential visit,” Dr. Stent said, “that is trumped by other issues.”

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