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Obama tells Russia that election will bring 'flexibility' on missile defense

The president's comments were caught accidentally by a microphone left on during a private conversation with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev.

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President Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev talk during a nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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President Barack Obama told Russia's leader Monday that he would have more flexibility after the November election to deal with the contentious issue of missile defense, a candid assessment of political reality that was picked up by a microphone without either leader apparently knowing.

Obama's Republican opponents pounced on the comment, saying the president has a hidden agenda that could include concessions to the Russians if he is re-elected this fall.

"This is my last election," Obama is heard telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. "After my election, I have more flexibility."

Medvedev replied in English, according to ABC News: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," an apparent reference to incoming President Vladmir Putin.

Obama and Medvedev did not intend for their comments, made during a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, to be made public.

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Once they were, the White House said Obama's words reflected the reality that domestic political concerns in both the U.S. and Russia this year would make it difficult to fully address their long-standing differences over the contentious issue of missile defense. Obama, should he win re-election, would not have to face voters again.

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