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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Barack Obama on Wednesday that he would not be able to attend the Group of Eight summit in Maryland later this month, the White House said, and will send Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place.

The May 18-19 gathering of the G8 at Camp David, the rustic presidential retreat in the Maryland countryside north of Washington, had been seen as an excellent chance for Obama and Putin to get to know each other.

Instead, they will hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the June 18-19, G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.

"Noting his responsibilities to finalize cabinet appointments in the new Russian government, President Putin expressed his regret that he would be unable to attend the G8 Summit," the White House said in a statement on the leaders' telephone conversation.

The meeting between Putin and Obama had been greatly anticipated after the U.S. president was caught on camera confiding in Medvedev that he would have more "flexibility" to tackle issues like missile defenses after Election Day, November 6.

Medvedev was overheard on an open microphone telling Obama that he would "transmit this information to Vladimir."

Republicans said that Obama was more or less signaling that he would cave into the anti-missile-defense demands of Putin, whom they view as a hard-line rival of the United States and a tougher proposition than Medvedev, whom he replaced as president.

Obama and Putin "reiterated their interest in the sustained high-level dialogue that has characterized the re-set of relations," the White House said in the statement, citing "substantial progress" on nuclear security, non-proliferation, Afghanistan and trade.

(Reporting By Jeff Mason and Alister Bull; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)

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