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Biden Speaks Following Meeting with Putin, Answers Reporter's Questions. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:30:00]

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is -- I listen to, again, a significant portion of what President Putin press conference was. And as he pointed out, this is about practical straightforward no nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make.

And we will find out in six months to year if we have a strategic dialogue that matters, and we will find out if we can work from everything from a release of people in Russian prisons or not.

We will find out whether we have a cyber security arrangement that begins to bring some order.

Look, the countries that most are likely to be damaged with the failure to do that, are major countries.

For example, when I talked about the pipeline, that ransomware hit in the United States, I looked at him and said, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said it would matter.

This is not about just our self-interests. It's mutual self-interests.

I'll take your questions. As usual, they gave me a list of the people I will call on.

Jonathan, Associated Press.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, sir.

U.S. intelligence said Russia tried to interfere in the last two presidential elections and Russia groups are behind hacks bike like SolarWinds and ransomware you mentioned.

Putin, in his news conference accepted no responsibility for any misbehavior. Your predecessor opted not to demand that Putin stop these disruptions.

So what is something concrete, sir, you achieved today to prevent that from happening again? What are the consequences you threatened?

BIDEN: Whether I stopped it from happening again, he knows that I will take action, like we did when this last time out.

What happened was, we, in fact, made it clear that we were not going to continue to allow this to go on. The end result was we ended up withdrawing ambassadors and we closed down some of their facilities in the United States and et cetera. He knows there are consequences.

Look, one of the consequences that I know -- I don't know, I shouldn't say this, it's unfair of me. I suspect you all think it doesn't matter.

But confidence matters to him and other world leaders of big nations. His credibility worldwide shrinks.

Let's get this straight. How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it?

What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he's engaged in? It diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power.

So it's not just what I do. It's what the actions that other countries take, in this case, Russia, that are contrary to international norms, it's the price they pay.

They are not, they are not able to dictate what happens in the world. There are other nations of significant consequence, I.E., United States of America being one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, on the same theme of consequences. You said just now you spoke to him about human rights. What do you say if opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, dies?

BIDEN: I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating, and America being one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, a quick follow-up on the consequences. You said just now, you spoke to him a lot about human rights. What do you say would happen if opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, dies?

BIDEN: I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.

I will go back to the same point. What do you think happens when he's saying it's not about hurting Navalny, and all the stuff he says to rationalize the treatment of Navalny, and then he dies in prison?

I pointed out to him that it matters a great deal when a country, in fact -- and they asked me why I thought it was important to continue to have problems with the president of Syria.

And I said because there's a violation of an international norm. And it's called the chemical weapons treaty. Can't be trusted. It's about trust. It's about their ability to influence other nations in a positive way. Look, would you like to trade our economy for Russia's economy? Would

you like to trade -- by the way, we talked about trade.

I don't have any problem with doing business with Russia as long as we do it based on the international norms. It's in our interest to see the Russian people do well economically. I don't have a problem with that.

[13:35:04]

But if they do not act according to international norms, guess what? That won't happen with us, and it will not happen with other nations.

He talked about that, didn't he, today? About the need to reach out and other countries to invest in Russia.

They won't, as long as they are convinced that, in fact, the violations, for example, the American businessman, who was on house arrest, and I pointed out, you want to get American businesses to invest, let him go. Change the dynamic.

Because American businessmen, they are not ready to show up. They don't want to hang around in Moscow.

Look, guys, I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill, and somehow it's sort of like a secret code, and all foreign policy is an extension of personal relationships. It's the way human nature functions.

Understand when you run a country that does not abide by international norms, and yet, you need the international norms to be somehow managed so you can participate in the benefits that flow from that, it hurts you.

That's not a satisfying answer, Biden said he would invade Russia. By the way, that was a joke. That's not true. But my generic point is, it's more complicated than that.

David Sanger.

I thought I saw David. There he is.

DAVID SANGER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you, Mr. President.

In the run up to this discussion, there has been a lot of talk about the two countries spilling down into a Cold War. I'm wondering if there was anything that you emerged from in the discussion that made you think that he --

BIDEN: Let me take my coat off. The sun is hot.

SANGER: Anything that would make you think that Mr. Putin has decided to move away from his fundamental role as a disrupter, particularly a disrupter of NATO and the United States? And if I could follow-up on your description of how you gave him a

list of critical infrastructure in the United States, did you layout clearly what the penalty would be for interfering with that infrastructure, and did he respond to it?

BIDEN: I will answer your second question first.

I pointed out to him we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but it's significant. If, in fact, they violate these basic norms we will respond. He knows, in the cyber world.

Number two, I think that the last thing he wants now is a Cold War. But I am quoting him, and I don't think it's appropriate.

Let me ask a question. You have a thousand-mile border with China, and China is seeking to be the most powerful economy and military in the world, and you are in a situation where your economy is struggling and you need to move it in a more aggressive way in terms of growing it.

And you -- I don't think he's looking for a Cold War with the United States. I don't think it's, as I said to him, I said your generation and mine are about ten years apart.

This is not a kumbaya moment as you used to say back in the '60s in the United States, like let's hug and love each other. But it's clearly not in anybody's interest, your country's or mine, for us to be in a situation where it's a new Cold War.

I truly believe he thinks that and understands that. And that doesn't mean he is willing to lay down his arms and say, come on.

He's still concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down and et cetera. He still has those concerns.

I don't think they are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he's looking for with the United States.

Jennifer Jacobs with the United States.

JENNIFER JACOBS, SENIR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Is there a particular reason the summit lasted three hours and we know you allotted four to five hours and it ran shorter.

Putin said there were no threats or scare tactics issued?

[13:40:01]

BIDEN: Yes.

JACOBS: Did you touch on Afghanistan and the safe withdrawal of troops?

BIDEN: Yes, yes and yes.

Let me go back to the first part. The reason it didn't go longer is when the last time two heads of state spent two hours in direct conversation directly across the table go into detail?

You may know of a time, but I don't. I can't think of one. So we didn't need -- when we got through and brought in our larger group, our -- my foreign minister and my secretary of state was with me the whole time, and our ambassador and et cetera, brought everybody in.

We had covered so much, and so there was a summary done by him and by me of what we covered. And we made sure we did not have any misunderstandings.

It was after two hours there, we looked at each other like, OK, what next?

What is going to happen next? We're going to be able to look back, look ahead, and three to six months and say, did the things we agree to sit down and work out, did it work?

Do we -- are we closer to a major strategic stability talks and progress? Are we further along in terms of -- and go down the line. That's going to be the test.

I am not sitting here saying because the president and I agreed we would do these things that all of a sudden it's going to work. I'm not saying that.

What I am saying, I think there's a genuine prospect to significantly improve the relations between the two countries, without giving up anything on principles and values.

There were no threats. As a matter of fact, I heard he quoted my mom and other people today. It was very, as we say, which will shock you coming from me, somewhat unusual.

I explained things on a personal basis, what happen if, for example. No threats, just simple assertions made, well, if you do that, I'll do this was not said.

Just letting him know where I stood, and what I thought we could accomplish together, and what, in fact, if there were violations of American sovereignty, what I would do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

BIDEN: He asked us about Afghanistan. He said he hopes we are able to maintain peace and security. And I said that has a lot to do with you.

He indicated he was prepared to, quote, "help" on Afghanistan, and I won't go into detail now, and help on Iran, and help on -- in return we told him what we wanted to do with the economic security, physical security to the people of Syria and Libya.

So we had those discussions.

Yamish?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks so much, Mr. President. You said you didn't issue any threats. Were there any ultimatums made

when it comes to ransomware? And when it came to Russian meddling and cyber security?

BIDEN: It's going to be real easy. For example, on cyber security, it will work out where they take action on the ransomware criminals on Russian territory. They didn't do it.

I don't think they planned it in in case. But will they act? We'll find out.

What can we commit to acting on anything violating international norms, and what are we going to agree to do? I think we have real opportunities to move.

I think that one of the things that I noticed when we had the larger meet is that people who are very, very well-informed, started thinking, you know, this could be a real problem.

What happens if the ransomware outfit was sitting in Florida or Maine and took action on their single lifeline to the oil, and you can see them, go, well, we do that, and it's like, whoa.

It's in everybody's interests these things are acted on.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Could I have a follow-up, sir?

BIDEN: Go ahead.

[13:45:00]

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, when Putin was questioned about human rights, he said he didn't want something like January 6th to happen, and he didn't want to see groups formed like Black Lives Matter.

What is your response to that?

BIDEN: My response is what I communicated, and that's ridiculous comparisons.

It's one thing for literally criminals to break through and go into the capitol and kill a police officer and be held unaccountable, than it is for people marching on the capitol and saying you are not allowing me to speak freely or do A, B and C. Very different criteria.

Steve Holland from Reuters.

STEVE HOLLAND, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: President Putin said he was satisfied about your comment about him being a killer. Can you give us your side on this? What did you tell him?

BIDEN: He's satisfied. Why would I bring it up again?

HOLLAND: Do you believe you can trust him?

BIDEN: Look, this is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification much self-interest. That's what it's about.

So I virtually -- almost anybody that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American peoples' interest, I don't say, I trust you, no problem. Let's see what happens.

There's the old expression, goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We will know shortly.

Igor, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty.

IGOR ATANASOVSKI, RADIO FREE EUROPE UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER RADIO FREE LIBERTY: Hello, Mr. President.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: If you want to go in the shade, you can. Can you see?

ATANASOVSKI: Yes.

So I think in civil society and the free press continues inside Russia.

BIDEN: Yes.

ATANASOVSKI: For example, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Liberty, Voice of America, branded foreign agents and several other independent media. So we are essentially being forced out in Russia 30 years after the president invited us in.

My question is, after your talks with President Putin, how interested do you think he is interested in proving the media climate in Russia?

BIDEN: I wouldn't put it that way. Improving the climate. I would, in fact, put it in terms of how much interests does he have in varnishing Russia's reputation.

That's not contrary to free speech. And that's something I don't know. And it's not because he's interested in changing the nation of closed government actions relative to what he thinks is the right of government to do what it does. It's a very different approach.

You know, there's a couple really good -- I told him I read most everything he's written, and the speeches he's made, and I have read a couple very couple good biographies as you may have as well.

And I pointed out to him that Russia had an opportunity, a brief shining moment after Gorbachev and after things began to change drastically that actually generated a democratic government.

What happened was it failed and there was a great, great race among Russian intellectuals to determine what form of government would they choose, and how would they choose it. Based on what I believe, Mr. Putin decided was, that Russia has always

been a major international power when it has been totally united as a Russian state.

Not based on ideology, whether we are going back to the czar straight through to the Russian Revolution, and to where they are today. I think that it's clear to me, and I have said it.

I think he decided a way for Russia to be able to sustain itself as a quote, "great power," is to in fact unite the Russian people on just the strength of the government, the government controls. Not necessarily ideology, but the government.

[13:50:00]

And I think that was the choice that was made. And I will not second guess whether it could have been made.

It does not lend itself to Russia maintaining itself as one of the great powers of the world.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, sir.

Should the military respond on this conversation today, in terms of the red lines you laid down, is military response an option for a ransomware attack?

And President Putin had called you in his press conference an experienced person. You don't him he doesn't have a soul. Do you now have a deeper understanding of him after this meeting?

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But on the military response, sir?

BIDEN: No, we didn't talk about military response.

(INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In the spirit, Mr. President, you keep say there's no substitute for dialogue and what you said at NATO, the biggest problems right now you are Russia and China.

You have spoken many times about how you have spent perhaps more time with President Xi than any other world leader.

Is there going to become a time where you might call him, old friend to old friend, and ask him to open up China to the World Health Organization investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of COVID-19?

BIDEN: Let's get something straight. We know each other well, we're not old friends. It's just pure business.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: My question is, you said you were going to press China, signed onto the G-7 communication that said the G-7 was calling on China to open up to let the investigators in.

But China basically says they don't want to be interfered with anymore, so what happens now?

BIDEN: The world's attitude as China develops. China is trying very hard to project itself as a very responsible and very, very forth coming nation.

They are finding it hard to talk about how they're helping the world in terms of COVID-19, and vaccines. They're trying very hard.

Certain things you don't have to explain to the people of the world. They see the results. Is China really actually trying to get to the bottom of this?

One thing we did discuss, as I told you, in the E.U. and at the G-7 and with NATO.

What we should be doing and what I'm going to make an effort to do is rally the world to work on what is going to be the physical mechanism available to detect early on the next pandemic and have a mechanism by which we can respond to it and respond to it early.

It's going to happen. It's going to happen. We need to do that.

Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to follow through with that discussion?

BIDEN: I'm not going to walk away on this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why are you so confidence he'll change his behavior, Mr. President?

BIDEN: I'm not confident. When does I say I was confident? What I said -

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: What I said -- look, let's get it straight. I said what will change the behavior is that the rest of the world react to them and it diminishes the standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything, I'm stating a fact. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But giving his past behavior, after the press

conference, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks. He downplayed human rights abuses, refused to say Alexei Navalny's name.

so how does that become a productive meeting?

BIDEN: If you don't understand that, it's --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quickly, let's go.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So there you have it, a bit more than half an hour, the up of the United States answering reporters' question making the case it was very, very important to establish this direct dialogue with the Russian leader, President Putin.

He said there's no substitute for face-to-face dialogue. It's a unique responsibility to have a stable and predictable relationship. He said there were no threats, no ultimatums.

But he did say this, Jim Sciutto, he said regarding the cyberwarfare, he said we have a significant cyber capability, and if they were to continue to do what they were doing, we will respond. We will respond.

[13:55:02]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's significant because President Biden said there were no threats describing an overall constructive tone to this meeting.

If you don't call that a threat, it's certainly a reminder to Putin that we can respond and make you hurt as well if you continue with attacks like this.

Two different worlds on the cyber issue.

President Putin's press conference, in there denying any Russian involvement, making up things about how the principal source of these attacks is somehow Latin-American, and the U.S., really deny or refusing to engage on that.

Biden, one, reminding Russia we have capability, but also saying he specifically proposed to Putin that they set aside 16 critical areas, that certainly critical infrastructure would be off-limits to attacks.

That's a substance tiff proposal. Whether Russia goes there. Biden was speaking substantive about their core issue.

The other thing to note, just going to the tone, it is remarkable. The meeting was a bit shorter, but both leaders came out and described a good atmosphere.

Biden said it was good, positive. There wasn't any strident action, Biden said. There were no threats, and that's notable.

As we were saying earlier today, Wolf, a few weeks ago there was genuine concern and urgency about the degree of animosity between these two countries.

First, about a Russian invasion of Ukraine. That led to the summit. So at least the leaders are talking in a way they both describe as constructive.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought he was notable that he said, I told Putin right away, this is not me trying to pick on Russia. I have no specific grievance with Russia. I have a specific grievance with these issues.

That was one area where the response was very different. President Putin came out and said, actually, the U.S. has made it clear it views Russia as an enemy, it doesn't want to see a strong Russia, it wants to contain Russia.

The other thing that President Biden slipped in there was bringing up China. He did this in the context of the Cold War question, basically trying to ratchet down the sort of tension on that, saying it doesn't behoove anyone to talk -- you're not interested in a Cold War.

And we know that the U.S. Is not thrilled about the friendship between Russia and China, Xi Jinping calling President Putin his best friend.

And it was interesting he was seeming to go play off on Russia's insecurities about its economy, making it clear that, look, China is the big thing we all need to be thinking about here. And it doesn't benefit anyone for us to be having a sort of return to the Cold War.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, you were at the news conference. I think you were asking him some questions. I wouldn't hear your questions or even hear his answers. But update our viewers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It grew tense there at the end, Wolf, as President Biden was leaving. He'd taken several questions.

But one thing he repeatedly turned to, saying he same here and did what he needed to do, felt like they had a constructive dialogue. President Putin described it as constructive.

President Biden said he felt they had raised several issues, to come and talk about, but he repeatedly kept saying in about three to six months they'll have a test of essential whether the talks are going in the right direct.

And I asked, why is he positive that President Putin will change his behavior this time around, given his predecessors, also felt a similar way? He said he is not confident that President Putin will change his behaviors.

But of course, the question and really the ultimate goal is to wait and see. I think the question is justified, Wolf, because, of course, you saw

President Putin, just as I did, come out at that press conference and do essentially so many things he's been criticized for by Western democracies for the last several months and years.

Including downplaying human rights, essentially dismissing them, denying any Russian involvement in the ransomware attacks.

Even though President Biden's own officials have said Russia is harboring the criminal groups that could be devastating for U.S. infrastructure.

And, of course, not just that, Wolf, but there's so many other things, including election interference, standing by Belarus after what they have just done, jailing political opponents as well.

All the things that you saw President Putin come out and stand by and make no apology or deny he had any involvement with it.

That, of course, is a big question facing this White House, whether or not that behavior is actually going to change.

[13:59:00]

I don't think it's a surprise to see President Biden and President Putin meet. You obviously see presidents in the early stages of their presidency trying to change the trajectory with Russia. Time and time again, that has not worked out.