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Biden Holds News Conference after Summit Talks with Putin. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired June 16, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Putin is a bad actor. Everybody knows that. The president has been clear, all he wants here, he does not expect breakthroughs, he wants a pragmatic, professional relationship where adults can talk to each other about difficult things. If the president is convinced you're going to get that from these interagency talks, whether it's on cyber, whether it's on political rights, whether it's on Ukraine, then perhaps he will be a bit more muted at the press conference.
But the president also knows, just as Putin played to his domestic audience, President Biden has to make his case here of why he believed, even though you don't expect any change in Putin's behavior, that it was important to sit down eyeball to eyeball.
And just to echo the other points quickly. I do think Putin is saying -- talking about pragmatism, professionalism, experience, it shows that he respects Mr. Biden. He respects his U.S. partner in this relationship. We'll see where it goes from here.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you are absolutely right. And, Dana, he did say that President Biden was very balanced, professional, he was experienced. He described the talks, Dana, as very efficient and substantive, and there are specific results -- they are achieving specific results and they're going to continue this dialogue. What did you think, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I agree. First of all, I also thought, even though President Putin did not answer any of the tough questions that came at him, and he definitely turned them all around, the fact that he got those tough questions, and in some cases, really tough questions from our own Matthew Chance and other mostly American reporters, was really kind of nice to see, because he is the president of Russia.
And although he has done some American interviews and others with, you know, news agencies that have objective reporters, this is not the kind of forum that Vladimir Putin is in every day of his life. And just the fact that he had to be subjected to that, or he allowed himself to be subjected to that was noteworthy. But I agree, the fact that he talked about Joe Biden as somebody who is -- has moral values and that they speak the same language, he said that doesn't imply we must look into each other's eyes and find a soul.
Of course, that reference to that famous George W. Bush line, I looked into his eyes and I found a soul, it does show that there is a respect that he has, whether that means how he is going to act on it, we don't know, but there's a respect that he has and that he knows he has an adversary with as much, if not, more experience on the stage world now, 40 years of it, as he had, very, very different relationship he had with Donald Trump, who Putin knew he could frankly walk all over and that was on display for all the world to see, and in a very cringe worthy way, according to even most Republicans back in Helsinki.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's interesting, John, that when we heard Putin make all these points about what was going on right now, you know, he really never -- never budged at all. We keep -- I keep noting that he didn't seem to make any concessions, yes, the Russian ambassador would come back to Washington, the U.S. ambassador would go back to Moscow, that was, I think, pretty much anticipated, expected that this diplomatic dialogue would go forward. But he was firm and he did, in fact, turn every criticism around and go after the United States.
KING: Who are the murderers here? It was his response to one of those. And I agree with Dana, one of the tough questions he got are from the western journalists, mostly Americans, but also some British journalists as well. Who are the murderers here?
So that is the whataboutism. That is a how dare you, you don't have the standing to question me, whether that's an American president questioning him in the meeting. And, again, we will hear President Biden's view soon, or whether it's a western reporter questioning him about Russian values. But that is textbook Putin that we have seen.
Wolf, you and I covered the Clinton White House back when Putin came into power. Back then, there was some hope that this KGB agent -- former KGB agent would somehow pull Russia from its past into a different future after Boris Yeltsin had to yield the stage. That's all gone now. That is long gone. George W. Bush regrets the soul comment. The history of Putin did not play out to support what President Bush thought he saw.
And so you have, to Dana's point, in President Biden someone who has been at this for four decades, someone who went through this. Remember the Obama administration, thought it was going to have a, quote/unquote, reset with Vladimir Putin. President Obama praised him in their first meeting. Putin then was prime minister.
He had stepped aside from the presidency temporarily, you'll remember. That's all gone now. There is nobody in the United States government who believes Vladimir Putin, tomorrow, next week, next year or beyond, is going to suddenly open up Russia for political reforms, he's going to suddenly say, I'm sorry, I'm going to back off Ukraine. No one expect any of that to happen.
So the question is can you have nuclear arms agreements?
Can you bring China into a global conversation about nuclear weapons? Can you deal with issues in Syria? Can you keep an eye on Afghanistan? Can you work together perhaps on the climate issue? Can you revolve these differences over Russian military buildup in the Arctic? Can you find some areas to get along and then be adults and don't surprise each other, have a relationship of trust or at least early warning on the problem spots? That would be the pragmatic, productive, predictable relationship President Biden wanted to.
But, again, I am fascinated by his take on this meeting and to see if he gets into more of the specifics on where he pushed Putin on the long list of complaints.
BLITZER: Well, Dana, what do you think? What do you think we might anticipate hearing response from President Biden?
BASH: Likely similar -- a similar readout when it comes to their interpersonal engagement, but very, very different when it comes to the substance and the issues at hand, because in the face of those tough questions, as we said, President Putin did not really answer them because it is not in his interest to answer them.
It is in President Biden's interest to answer how he either face down or got very specific and maybe not confrontational but very clear with Vladimir Putin about the expectations going forward that the U.S. has when it comes to how Russia conducts itself on all of the issues that we have been talking about. That is not something, again, that Putin feels the need to talk about. But it is important for Joe Biden on the global and international stage and domestic consumption back here in Washington.
BLITZER: Jim Scuitto is still with us, Clarissa Ward is with us as well. It was interesting, I thought, that when it came to the possible prisoner exchange, and there are two American prisoners being held in Russia right now, Putin said flatly they may be able to work out a compromise. He used the word, compromise.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did. And it goes to a point that Fiona Hill brought up earlier, which I think is was notable, that maybe the breakout sessions that we were talking about to follow the face-to-face meeting early on between Putin and Biden, which the White House, by the way, says, there was only one meeting, not two, regardless.
But maybe those breakout sessions follow this. They have said, for instance, there will be, in effect, breakout meetings between the Russian ministry of foreign affairs and the state department on the possibility of a prisoner swap or exchange, there will be consultations, as Putin described them on cyber although with a low bar for success or hope for any progress given how he then denied that Russia is doing any cyber activity, but the point being that they're going to continue to talk. And on these particular issues, they're going to be sitting down and having these discussions in other cities in other times. He did note he did not get an invitation to the White House, Putin did not on this trip. And he said, listen, we may not be ready for that. You've got to make some progress on these things before we set up something like that.
BLITZER: And he didn't say he invited President Biden to Moscow either.
SCIUTTO: Or even Sochi.
BLITZER: Yes, maybe in Sochi, that's right.
I want to get to Phil Mattingly, our White House Correspondent, in a moment. But one thing I just want to clarify, when he is discussing the allegations of human rights abuses in Russia and press freedom, he reins the issue of two Russian news organizations that have now been forced to register as foreign agents with the U.S. Justice Department because of their ties to the Russian government. And he says, we don't do that to American news organizations when they come to Moscow.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He may not do that to this particular news organization, although he hinted that there may be some looking over of the rules in the future, but they do it to plenty of other organizations. Look at Radio Free Europe.
I thought what was interesting as well, beyond the whataboutism that I think we have talked about a lot, was this was very much a conference for his domestic audience.
And the way he chooses to portray America to his domestic Russian audience is as a violent country in decline with secret CIA prisons and Guantanamo Bay, and people being shot on the streets everyday and anger on the streets and the Capitol state riots, which very interestingly he was comparing the rioters to Alexei Navalny, as if they are the same thing, saying, you have your opposition, your unauthorized opposition, we have out unauthorized opposition.
Alexei Navalny has never committed any violent act. He has tried to legally participate in a political system, but you realize what an opportunity sadly it is to say that the riots and the political instability in the U.S have given Putin in terms of constantly denigrating the U.S., particularly for his domestic Russian audience.
SCIUTTO: And, by the way, it goes back to Soviet times. The Soviet Union did the same with U.S. civil rights in the '60s, which helped drive the Johnson administration and others to say, hey, we have to solve this problem because it weakens us internationally.
But I always find it notable when some of Putin's rhetoric and, frankly, disinformation is in line with some things we hear from domestic sources in the U.S. Putin he did not mention Ahsli Babbitt by name, but he did talk about a protester on January 6th being shot by police. You have a meeting of the minds on some of these, in effect, disinformation campaigns or at least unfactual descriptions of events in the U.S.
BLITZER: And this going back to the old Soviet Union, the Soviets, now the Russians, they have always wanted to see political dissent as much as possible in the United States. They sowed that political dissent in order to weaken the U.S. at home and abroad.
Phil Mattingly, I know we are anxious to hear from the American president, President Biden. He's going to be having a news conference over at the hotel here in Geneva where he's staying. Set the scene for us. What are you hearing?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the interesting elements, we all talked about the negotiations over the structure of this summit, why the U.S. decided or pushed forward to have individual press consequences, and there's no question about it. One of the primary reasons was because they didn't want to elevate President Putin to be, in their view, on the same level as President Biden.
But they also negotiated to go second. And I'm told that's for a reason. They wanted to make sure President Biden had the last word, in their view, on what the summit actually entailed. And I was talking to U.S. officials during Putin's press conference, and they made clear their team and the president were watching that press conference very, very closely.
And after that press conference there was an expectation the president would huddle with his aides and kind of go over how they wanted either to respond to anything that President Putin said, if they felt like they needed to counter anything that President Putin said, which is going to make what the president says when he comes out right off the bat, very interesting. If he feels or if his team feels he needs to respond or counter anything that they heard during President Putin's press conference.
I think when it comes to President Putin's press conference, U.S. officials going into it didn't necessarily now what to expect. I think that everybody expects at this point the whataboutism and the kind of tangents on him trying to equate U.S. domestic policies with the policies of Russia or other countries, and I'm not totally sure that the U.S. officials feel like that needs to be addressed out of hand.
But I think the way President Putin framed the negotiations, framed the potential for progress at some point, however incremental, certainly falls into line with what U.S. officials were looking for going into the meeting.
So it's just worth noting that this was structured this way for a reason, and it's why U.S. officials negotiated for separate press conferences and to go second. And the president likely meeting with his team right now, trying to frame what they just heard from President Putin, as well as get their side and their view of what transpired behind closed doors out to the public, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, it was interesting that Putin did take questions from American journalists, American news organizations in addition, obviously, to the Russian journalist who were there. I'm curious to see what President Biden does, will he take questions from Russian journalists who are going to be attending the news conference or strictly answer reporters' questions from American news organization.
Matthew Chance, you are our Moscow Correspondent. You represent obviously CNN. You asked a very important serious question to the Russian leader. What jumped out at you?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, yes, I did, and you are right. And I am really fortunate to have been given that opportunity by the press secretary, because it's difficult to get. But we spoke about, first of all, what the dynamic was between President Putin and President Biden, because there's been so much speculation about -- so much kind of analysis about what their body language was like, whether it would be a hostile but respectful, I think, was one of the terms that was being thrown around in counter.
And I asked him this. I said, what was the dynamic like? And he said he didn't think there was any kind of hostility in the meeting. He said that even though many of their positions were divergent, both sides, both he and President Biden, tried, he said, to understand himself in what he described as constructive talk. And so he's putting a positive spin on what must have been talks that, you know, did not really kind of tackle the core disagreements between the two countries.
Because the second part of the question that I asked him was about whether he committed for Russia not carry out cyber attacks on the United States, and he, of course, denied any involvement, as he has in the past, as Russians officials tend to do, any involvement in that kind of malign cyber activity, basically deflected on the issue of Alexei Navalny as well.
I asked him whether he committed to President Biden to stop his crackdown on the opposition figures associated with supporters of Alexei Navalny, which just a couple of weeks, remember, that he doubled down on that crackdown, if you will, by basically making Alexei Navalny's anti-corruption campaign, anti-corruption group illegal, designating it as an extremist group, and so really removing even that strand of the opposition there.
He also wouldn't commit to -- or refused to acknowledge that he was posing any kind of existential threat to Ukraine.
So, again, Ukraine, cybersecurity, the crackdown at home, these are the core issues, the core disagreements. No movement on that, as we predicted, but some movement on other issues. It was -- for instance, he did say that the issue of the ambassadors, which is one of those surface tensions that's been brewing for a while. The ambassadors of each country are not in their respective capitals, that will now be resolved, he said, possibly within days. And, look, I mean, it was as predicted, a meeting that did not tackle or resolve, and it never could, those core issues, but they at least talked and they at least got that process of further dialogue moving. Wolf?
BLITZER: The opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and, Matthew, you have covered this story for a long time, Putin said he was breaking the laws of Russia, he was twice convicted but refused to even, once again, utter, mention his name. Tell us why this is so is sensitive for Putin?
CHANCE: Yes. I mean, it's incredible, isn't it? I mean, even now, so many years after Alexei Navalny has been a key part of the Russian sort of political scene. Vladimir Putin will not utter his name, and he called him to the -- in this occasion, he called him the gentleman in question, is what he called him.
There has been other sort of formulations to describe Alexei Navalny in the past. But he was pretty hard line about him. He said he was a repeat offender who had been convicted twice. He said that he deliberately returned to Russia in order to get arrested and he basically, as I said, deflected the whole issue of whether or not he was responsible for poisoning Alexei Navalny, almost killing him with Novichok.
And went on to sort of compare the crackdown on opposition parties, opposition groups in Russia with, you know, the arrest of insurrectionists, as we have been discussing in January at the U.S. Capitol and with other issues that have been going on in the United States, like that. So a classic case bit of whataboutism, as it's called, there from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
BLITZER: The U.S. delegation, including the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, they are now in the room. The president will be walking in, we're told, about a minute or so.
Phil mattingly, very quickly, you are getting some more information.
MATTINGLY: Yes, Wolf. We're actually finding out the gifts that the White House and President Biden presented to the Russian delegation. They included a crystal sculpture. But get this, Wolf. The president also gifted President Putin a pair of custom Aviators made in Randolph, USA, in 1978. Randolph joined forces with the U.S. military to produce Aviators designed for fighter pilots. They have since provided the U.S. military and NATO partners with high-level Aviators there manufactured domestically in Massachusetts.
So, Aviators obviously something President Biden often wears, but also the production for the U.S. military and NATO being tied to one of the gifts that President Biden ended up giving to President Putin, kind of an interesting little twist there, maybe a little jab in the crystal sculpture and Aviator glasses, Wolf.
BLITZER: Were you told what gifts the Russian may have given the president? MATTINGLY: We have not found out exactly yet what President Putin presented to the U.S. delegation. All we have so far is what the U.S. delegation has presented. Perhaps the president will address that during his press conference in about a minute. But I will be sure to ask and see if we can get more on the gift exchange, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important development, indeed, the gift exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Phil, stand by. We are waiting -- we're told that the president, President Biden, will be walking over to the microphones shortly. I anticipate he will open with a statement. I don't know if it's going to be a long statement or a short statement.
We know that Putin opened with a very, very short statement and then he immediately started taking questions and answered a lot of questions.
Jim Sciutto, we are waiting for the president of the United States. He's going to will have the last word, as they say, because he wanted to have the last word. He did not want to have a joint news conference, like former President Trump had with Putin.
SCIUTTO (voice over): So, big questions, one, does he confirm the incremental progress that Putin described, the exchange of ambassadors, disagreement between the foreign ministry and the state department to discuss a possible prisoner exchange, one, those basic things. Two, does he describe a positive rapport or the makings of a positive rapport with Putin, as Putin did to some extent, in effect, conveying that this is someone I could potentially work with?
Three, though, does Biden pushback on the reams of disinformation that Putin shared in his press conference, denying any responsibility for cyberattacks, flipping the human rights question on to the U.S., and not even mentioning the name of Alexei Navalny, who U.S. intelligence believes he attempted to kill with poison, right? How does Biden push back against that?
BLITZER: All right, here he is.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no problem getting through those doors, was there?
Anyway, hello, everyone. Well, I just finished the last meeting of this week's long trip, the U.S.-Russian summit. And I know there was a lot of hype around the meeting, but it's pretty straightforward, the meeting. One, there's no substitute, as those of you have covered for a while, for face-to-face dialogue between leaders, none.
And President Putin and I had a -- share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries, a relationship that has to be stable and predictable. And it should be able -- we should be able to cooperate where it's in our mutual interests. And where we have differences I want President Putin to understand why I say what I say, and why I do what I do and how we will respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America's interests.
Now, I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It's for the American people, fighting COVID-19, rebuilding our economy, re-establishing relationships around the world with our allies and friends and protecting the American people. That's my responsibility as president.
I also told him that no president in the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have in our view. That's just part of the DNA of our country. So human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him.
It's not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights, it's about who we are. How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights. I told him that unlike other countries, including Russia, we're uniquely a product of an idea. You've heard me say this before again and again, and I'm going to keep saying it. It was that idea. We don't derive our rights from the government. We possess them because we're born, period. And we yield them to a government.
So the forum I pointed out to him that that's why we are going to raise our concerns about cases like Alexei Navalny. I made it clear to President Putin that we'll will continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights, because that's what we are. That's who we are. The idea is we hold these truths self-evident that all men and women, we haven't lived up to it completely but we've always widened the arc of commitment and included more and more people.
And I raised the case of two wrongfully imprisoned American citizens, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to operate and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech. I made it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to violate our democratic sovereignty, or destabilize our democratic elections. And we would respond.
The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by. I also said there are areas where there's a mutual interest for us to cooperate, for our people, Russian and American people, but also for the benefit of the world and the security of the world.
One of those areas is strategic stability. You asked me many times what was I going to discuss with Putin before. I came. I told you I only negotiate with the individual. And now I can tell you what I was intending to do all along, and that is to discuss and raise the issue of strategic stability and try to set up a mechanism where we dealt with it.
We discussed in detail the next steps our country could take on arms control measures, the steps we need to take to reduce the risk of unintended conflict. And I'm pleased he agreed today to launch a bilateral, strategic stability dialogue, diplomatic speak for saying, get our military experts and our diplomats together to work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.
And we went into some details of what those weapon systems were.
Another area we spent a great deal of time on was cyber and cybersecurity. I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructures should be off limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means. I gave them a list. If I'm not mistaken, I don't have it in front of me, 16 specific entities, 16 defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy, from the energy sector to our water systems.
Of course, the principle is one thing. It has to be backed up by practice. Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory. So we agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off limits and to follow-up on specific cases that originate in other countries, either of our countries.
There's a long list of other things we spent time on, from the urgent need to preserve and open the humanitarian crosses in Syria so we can get food, just simple food and basic necessities to people who are starving to death. How to build it and how it is in the interest of both Russia and the United States to ensure that Iran, Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. We agreed to work together there because there's as much in Russia's interest as ours.
And to how we can ensure the Arctic remains in that a region of cooperation rather than conflict. I caught part of President Putin's press conference, he talked about the need for us to be able to have some kind of modus operandi where we dealt with making sure the Arctic was, in fact, a free zone, and how to we can each contribute to the shared effort of preventing the resurgence of terrorists in Afghanistan. It's very much in the interest of Russia not to have a resurgence of terrorist in Afghanistan.
There are also areas that are more challenging. I communicated the United States' unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk agreement. And I shared our concern about Belarus. He didn't disagree with what happened. He just says it's in perspective of what to do about it.
But I know you have a lot of questions, so let me close with this. It was important to meet in person so there can be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate. I did what I came to do.
Number one, identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interest and also benefit the world. Two, communicate directly, directly and that the United States to respond to actions that impair our vital interest or those of our allies, and three, to clearly layout our country's priorities and our values so he heard it straight from me.
And I must tell you, the tone of the entire meeting, I guess it was a total of four hours, was good, positive. There wasn't any strident action. What we disagreed, I disagreed, stated where it was, where he disagreed, he stated, but it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere. That is too much of what's been going on.
Over this last week, I believe, I hope, the United States has shown the world that we are back standing with our allies, we rallied our fellow democracies to make concerted commitments to take on the biggest challenges our world faces. And now, we've established a clear basis on how we intend to deal with Russia and the U.S.-Russia relationship.
There's much more work ahead. I'm not suggesting that any of this is done. We have gotten a lot of business done on this trip.
And before I take your questions, I want to say one last thing. Folks, look, this is about -- this is about how we move from here. This is -- I listen to, again, a significant portion of what President Putin press conference was.