(CBS News) SEOUL, South Korea - Unaware that a microphone was recording him, President Barack Obama asked outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" until after his re-election to negotiate on NATO's planned missile defense system for Eastern Europe.
Incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin made it a big issue in his re-election campaign.
At the end of a meeting Monday on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, President Obama was overheard giving Medvedev a very candid political assessment on his ability to deal with missile defense and other issues, in a message to be conveyed to incoming President Putin, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Bill Plante.
"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space," Mr. Obama told Medvedev.
Medvedev replied, "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you."
"This is my last election," President Obama said. "And after my election, I have more flexibility."
The Russian leader responded, "I understand. I transmit this information to Vladimir."
After the remarks became public, the White House admitted the obvious, saying it's true that nothing much would get done in an election year.
But the administration did say Mr. Obama and Medvedev had directed their technical experts to see what they could do to work things out.