President Obama’s impatience with Russia flared when he criticized the country’s new anti-gay law and expressed dismay with the outcome of the Edward Snowden case in a taped interview with Jay Leno on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”
Obama told Leno that he was disappointed in Russian officials’ decision to grant temporary asylum to Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked U.S. secrets.
Nor did he bite his tongue when asked about Russia’s crackdown on its gay community with a new law banning “propaganda” regarding “nontraditional sexual relations.”
“I’ve been very clear that when … you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the Tuesday night interview. “And I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
The sit-down with Leno in Burbank veered into the state of personal relationships between Obama and his former political rivals.
Leno asked about the “bromance” between the president and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Obama praised McCain for speaking his mind, calling him “a person of integrity.”
“That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes,” Obama joked. “Initially you’re not getting along and then you keep bumping into each other.”
As for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who paid a recent visit to the White House to have lunch with Obama, the president said she displayed “that post-administration glow.”
Leno also asked Obama about several serious subjects, including this week’s closure of several U.S. embassies in reaction to a terrorist threat. Obama said the U.S. was not overreacting, but “the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident.”
He argued that government surveillance - the subject of Snowden’s disclosures - is a “critical component to counter-terrorism,” even though he knows the practice has “raised a lot of questions for people.”
“The first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed is making sure that I’m doing everything I can to keep Americans safe,” Obama said.
Obama’s plans to meet privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in September are in doubt because Russia has granted Snowden one year’s asylum rather than returning him to the U.S. to face charges, as the administration had demanded.
Leno asked whether Russia’s anti-gay law would affect the Olympics, scheduled for next year in Russia.
The president said no. “I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work,” he said. “And I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.”