WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Friday that he did not favor boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, rejecting calls from LGBT activists to do so over a new law banning so-called homosexual propaganda.
"I want to say very clearly. I do not think it's appropriate to boycott the Olympics," he said at a news conference. But he added that he hoped gay and lesbian American athletes would bring home medals and reiterated his opposition to the law.
"If Russia doesn't have gay or lesbian athletes, then it will probably make their team weaker," he said.
A law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," and the law is written so vaguely that many fear that it will be used to crack down against gays and lesbians broadly. Since foreigners who violate the law can potentially be deported, many fear LGBT athletes from other countries who are competing in the Olympics may be targeted.
"Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation than you’ve been seeing in Russia," Obama said. "As I said just this week, I’ve spoken out against that, not just with respect to Russia, but a number of other countries where we continue to do work with them but we have a strong disagreement on this issue."
Obama also spoke on the U.S.-Russian relationship more broadly, and defended his relationship with Putin.
"I don't have a bad personal relationship with Putin," he said, describing their conversations as "blunt" and "candid."
He added, however, that he had seen more anti-American rhetoric coming from Russia since Putin became president again in 2012. "I've encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards with mixed success," Obama said.
The comments come after Obama cancelled a bilateral meeting in Moscow with Putin amid tensions over Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who applied for asylum in Russia, as well as differences on Syria, arms control and missile defense. The presidents will still meet in St. Petersburg during the G-20 summit next month.
Also on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Washington.
Relations with Russia have gone downhill since Putin returned to office and moved the country in a more conservative, nationalistic direction. Obama and Putin's predecessor, Dimitry Medvedev, had signed a new arms control agreement and maintained a somewhat warmer relationship.