SEOUL - President Barack Obama was caught on camera on Monday assuring outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he will have "more flexibility" to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after the US presidential election.
Obama, during talks in Seoul, urged Moscow to give him "space" until after the November ballot, and Medvedev said he would relay the message to incoming Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The unusually frank exchange came as Obama and Medvedev huddled together on the eve of a global nuclear security summit in the South Korean capital, unaware their words were being picked up by microphones as reporters were led into the room.
US plans for an anti-missile shield have bedeviled relations between Washington and Moscow despite Obama's "reset" in ties between the two former Cold War foes. Obama's Republican opponents have accused him of being too open to concessions to Russia on the issue.
Leaning toward Medvedev, Obama was overheard asking for time - "particularly with missile defense" - until he is in a better position politically to resolve such issues.
"I understand your message about space," replied Medvedev, who will hand over the presidency to Putin in May.
"This is my last election... After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said, expressing confidence he will win a second term.