The Cable

Putin not coming to U.S. for G-8

Russian President Vladimir Putin has informed the White House that he will not be coming to the United States for next week's G-8 summit at Camp David.

Putin will instead send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the meeting. Putin and Medvedev completed their job swap on Tuesday when the Russian parliament confirmed Medvedev to return to the position he held last time Putin was president. Putin was also sworn in as President on Tuesday and President Barack Obama called him Wednesday to congratulate him on his return to the top job in the Russian Federation.

A senior administration official told The Cable that Putin's ongoing formation of the new Russian government was the main reason he will not be coming to the United States.

"Putin will not attend the G-8," the official told The Cable. "He has to finalize the cabinet in the new Russian government. However he will meet with the president on the margins of the G-20 summit in mid-June."

Also, the domestic optics would bad for Putin if he goes to the United States as his first overseas trip as president. Putin criticized the U.S. government throughout the campaign and accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of fomenting unrest inside Russia during the election campaign.

For the administration, Putin's absence cuts both ways. Medvedev is seen in Washington as more amenable to working with the U.S. government than Putin and has good relationships with Obama administration officials. But Putin's decision to not attend delays what would have been his first meeting with Obama as president and removes a chance for the two leaders to promote an image of cooperation in the wake of tensions between Washington and Moscow that surrounded the Russian elections.

Russia, which is not a NATO member but has attended past summits, is also sitting out the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21, also due to the timing of the event, according to Obama administration officials.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon traveled to Moscow and met with Putin last week.


The Cable

Chris Smith: Administration silent on Chen's cause

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng's best friend in Congress, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), told The Cable on Tuesday that the Obama administration has failed to stand up for Chen's cause, the abuse of women under China's one-child policy.

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case -- to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

"I don't think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this," Smith said.

If and when administration officials do show up to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Smith plans to press them on two things: The fight against forced abortion and forced sterilization that led to Chen's initial imprisonment and the plight of Chen's friends and extended family members who are undergoing government harassment in China.

"The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident," Smith told The Cable. "Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it."

Smith said that the administration has been avoiding any reference to the issue, which they haven't done for similar human-rights related cases in countries other than China.

"Can you imagine the president saying ‘no comment' on Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi? He would launch into what they stood for as well as their personal plight," Smith said. "They say his name but they don't talk about his message. It's more than troubling."

The State Department feels confident the Chinese government will honor its pledge to allow Chen study in the United States and bring his wife and son in tow. But Chen's mother, nephew, and several activists who supported him are still in legal limbo and facing increasingly violent retribution, Smith said.

Smith referred to the case of Jiang Tianyong, Chen's lawyer, who was arrested and beaten badly last week on the way to visit Chen in the hospital. Jiang remains under house arrest. Other figures in Chinese government hands include Chen's nephew, Chen Kegui, and He Peirong, the woman who drove Chen to the embassy.

Smith said he can't get answers from the administration on what's being done to secure the safety of those individuals.

"I've conveyed that to everybody at the State Department. They know about it. But what are they doing about it? That's the question."

Alex Wong