Nightly News   |  August 07, 2013

US-Russia relationship grows chillier

On Wednesday, President Obama called off a planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, representing a new low in the combative back-and-forth that has been building between the two countries for months. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> good evening. i'm lester holt sitting in tonight for brian. while the cold war has been over for more than 20 years the growing chill of late between washington and moscow became downright frosty today as president obama called off his planned meeting with russia 's vladimir putin . a response to russia 's grant of asylum to accused american spy edward snowden, but the split goes deeper than that the and highlights the failure of the two most powerful men in the world to everything from syria to arms control. the president is speaking publically for the first time about the terror warnings from the arabian peninsula . chief white house correspondent chuck todd starts us off with more on that. chuck.

>> reporter: good evening, lester. both sides insist the cold war isn't back, but it is clear the relationship with the united states and russia is getting pretty icy. today's announcement that the president will not meet vladimir putin in moscow next month represents a new low in the combative back and forth over issues from trade to adoptions on syria and iran which has been building for two months. it was russia 's refusal to extradite nsa leaker edward snowden even after appeals including a personal phone call from president obama to putin that was the last straw. the president showed frustration last night on "the tonight show ".

>> there have been times when they slip back into cold war thinking and a cold war mentality. what i consistently say to them and what i say to president putin is that's the past.

>> reporter: mr. obama will still attend the g-20 economic summit taking place in st. petersburg, russia . he's snubbing putin in moscow .

>> the relationship with russia doesn't have to get worse. it has to get better. we may be at a low point now. it's the time to find ways to make it better.

>> reporter: to say the two have no personal chemistry is an understatement. from the first time they met outside moscow after mr. obama took office to their june meeting in northern ireland when putin awkwardly rebuffed the president's attempt to lighten the mood.

>> the president wants to relax me with his statement.

>> reporter: the leaders couldn't be more different. put ds in flamboyant, the president buttoned down and measured.

>> putin seems like an old school kgb guy.

>> he headed up the kbg.

>> that's what i mean. yeah.

>> reporter: while russia is a long-term foreign policy challenge for the president, in the short term his focus is terrorism. he addressed it with leno.

>> how significant is the threat?

>> significant enough that we are taking every precaution.

>> reporter: lester, back to russia . today's move is symbolic. there is a lot of work with syria and iran. in fact, later this week in washington, secretaries kerry and hagel will meet with their counterparts which is where a lot of the work gets done.

>> chuck todd , thank you.