WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Sunday came under political fire from two of President Barack Obama’s top lieutenants, who dismissed Romney’s tough talk on Russia as being behind the times.
In separate interviews, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to cast Romney as stuck in the days of the Cold War and unaware of the strategic interests that the United States and Russia share on Iran, Afghanistan and the world’s oil supply.
The two were hitting back at Romney for criticizing Obama last week after the Democratic president assured Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with the contentious issue of missile defense after the November 6 general election in the United States.
Republicans seeking to oust Obama from the White House in November pounced on his comments, which had been caught inadvertently by an open microphone. Romney expressed alarm that Obama had offered assurances to Russia, which he called “our number one geopolitical foe.”
The former Massachusetts governor has increasingly trained his attacks on Obama while seeking to establish himself as the Republican candidate most likely candidate for the party’s nomination to challenge the president in November.
Biden and Clinton took aim at Romney’s limited experience on foreign relations issues.
“He acts like he thinks the Cold War is still on, Russia is still our major adversary. I don’t know where he has been,” Biden shot back during a Sunday interview on the CBS current affairs program “Face the Nation.”
“This is not 1956,” Biden added. “We have disagreements with Russia, but they’re united with us on Iran. One of only two ways we’re getting material into Afghanistan to our troops is through Russia ... if there is an oil shutdown in any way in the Gulf, they’ll consider increasing oil supplies to Europe.”
Meanwhile, Clinton told CNN that Romney needed to be more realistic about U.S.-Russian relations.
“I think it’s somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don’t agree,” she said in an interview during a visit to Turkey.
The Romney campaign quickly jumped to their candidate’s defense.
“Vice President Biden appears to have forgotten the Russian government’s opposition to crippling sanctions on Iran, its obstructionism on Syria and its own backsliding into authoritarianism. And Secretary Clinton herself asked recently of Russia, ‘whose side are they on?’,” Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said in a statement.
The Romney campaign stepped up Republican criticism that the president is too open to concessions to Moscow.
“The administration has given away concession after concession to the Russian government and received obstructionism on major issues of national security in return. We can expect more such ‘flexibility’ if President Obama is re-elected,” Chen said.
U.S. plans for an anti-missile shield have bedeviled relations between Washington and Moscow, despite Obama’s “reset” in ties between the former Cold War foes.
The United States and NATO have offered Russia a role in the project to create an anti-ballistic shield that includes participation by Romania, Poland, Turkey and Spain.
But Moscow says it fears the system could weaken Russia by gaining the capability to shoot down the nuclear missiles it relies on as a deterrent.
It wants a legally binding pledge from the United States that Russia’s nuclear forces would not be targeted by the system and joint control of how it is used.
Editing by Eric Beech and Anthony Boadle