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Biden Meets With Putin. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's a surprise to see President Biden and President Putin meet.

You often 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 in the end. So, that is the big question facing this administration going forward.

And we should also note, Wolf, going into the summit, there was some division inside the White House when they were planning it in recent months about whether or not it should go forward. There was some aides who thought, yes, this is a good time. You have seen some people who even worked for former President Trump say that.

There were others who thought they needed to be able to have deliverables on the table walking out of this meeting, more than just what we saw today, having the ambassadors go back to their posts. So there is a lot left to be answered about what the future of the U.S.- Russia relationship is going to look like, and certainly under President Biden.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, we saw the presidential motorcade. It's already left the hotel, heading towards the airport. The president will be flying directly back to Washington over the next several hours.

You can see the after-effects of that presidential motorcade right there.

Jeff Zeleny, you're listening as carefully as anyone. What did you think?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if it was clear, when President Biden was answering Kaitlan's questionnaire, he said he's not confident at the behavior of President Putin.

But one thing he is confident, in his new role on the world stage. As he considers the last several days, the last week, indeed, of traveling across Europe, really leading into this point, he is leaving his first foreign trip declaring it a success, or at least on the pathway to it.

But the reality is, as he said himself, we will not know exactly if it's a success for the next three months, six months and beyond to see if Russia changes its behavior.

But, Wolf, it is quite striking to just see the confidence in his approach, in his tone, as he really handles all of this. He did not go point by point rebutting everything that Vladimir Putin said. There was a discussion among White House aides what he should talk about.

But, in the end, he ended up talking about at this press conference essentially what he had planned to going into it. He certainly was comfortable in that moment, taking off his jacket, answering these questions from some top foreign policy reporters in the audience that he doesn't always call on.

Wolf, as we assess this trip, this is why Joe Biden ran for president. This is why he decided to come back into the arena to challenge former President Donald Trump, because he wanted to strengthen the transatlantic alliance. He wanted to take America's democratic ideals abroad.

Now he has the job. And I think the first trip out of the gate here, indeed, we can call it a success. But we will see what happens on the future ones to come. We do not know that Vladimir Putin is going to change his behavior. He's had every opportunity to do so previously, and has not done so.

So this now will be President Biden's challenge. He now owns this relationship with Vladimir Putin. By agreeing to meet with him here in Geneva, this will be the benchmark for which their relationship is going to spring forward from here.

Now, as we see behind me here the motorcade, President Biden is indeed leaving, and he is heading for the airport and will be traveling back to Washington, but doing so, again, with a bit of a bounce in his step, with more work to come.

I think, Wolf, summing it up here, he said, this is not a kumbaya moment. But, clearly, he's trying to frame it as a win. But, again, now he owns this relationship, and what comes from here will certainly help dictate the foreign policy of his presidency -- Wolf.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, to Jeff's point, Wolf, why Biden ran for president, we should note the clear dramatic contrast between Geneva and Helsinki, Trump in Helsinki and Biden here.

Biden's words very strongly worded about an American president standing up for human rights, saying no president could keep the faith of the American people if he didn't speak out against the violation of human rights. Those are not words that you heard from President Trump really at all are often.

And, by the way, instead, what you heard from Trump when he was next to Putin was saying: I believe what Putin is saying. I don't believe my own intelligence agencies.

That contrast is notable. And it struck me that Putin noticed that. Putin even said, this is a very different president, Biden, than Trump.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very different in tone, but also in terms of the ability to get things done.

When he was asked that question about, how come it was only three-and- a-half hours, and it was supposed to be...

SCIUTTO: Yes.

WARD: And he was like, because we sat down at the table, we were professional, we were pragmatic, and we got it done, and we went through this host -- we went through humanitarian corridors to Syria, Iran, nuclear, Arctic remains, an area of cooperation, not conflict, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Belarus. We went through it all in two hours -- three hours, rather, because he's a seasoned professional.

He knows how to do this. It really seemed like he was stepping into his own here and owning the moment, taking control of the situation.

[14:05:03]

BLITZER: And I thought it was significant, Jim, that President Biden, he underscored areas of agreement with the Russian leader, Syria, for example, Iran nukes, for example, Arctic, military activity in the Arctic, Afghanistan.

He had some specific areas where the two sides seemed to be pretty much on the same page.

SCIUTTO: And the Iran nuclear deal is no small thing. This is an enormous agreement involving America's closest allies, European partners, and China and Russia, signed in 2015, which, of course, Trump pulled out of and Biden is trying to resurrect, it appears, as stated there, with Russia's support.

I mean, whether they can get over the remaining issues, we don't know. But that is a nuclear -- whether you agree with it or not, it was a landmark nuclear agreement that the U.S. and Russia, for all their disagreements, are on the same page on.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeff.

ZELENY: Yes, we're, I'm told, getting a joint statement here. So, let's...

BLITZER: I think we have -- Jeff Zeleny, go ahead.

ZELENY: Yes, Wolf, we are getting a joint statement here that I'm just pulling up.

And let me read it aloud to you. It's a joint statement on this, as President Biden called it, the strategic stability. Of course, that is the point of all of this, trying to go forward with strategic stability.

Let's read it together. "We, president of the United States of America, Joseph R. Biden, and president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they're able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic fear, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war."

So that is, in a nutshell, what they agreed on. We have been talking about what, of course, they disagree on, but the nuclear piece of this so important. And given the fact that the U.S. and Russia have the lion's share of the world's nuclear powers. This is something that they are indeed coming together on.

Now, what is the worth of this joint statement? We will see. Is there a new cyberattack coming in the next week or two weeks? Likely so. We will see how the responses are. But, again, as President Biden prepares to return to Washington, facing a -- just a litany of domestic challenges, it's become clear that the world stage, at least, is an easier place for him to operate in.

Of course, it's more difficult, in some respects, to judge immediate success on the world stage. He faces all the challenges he still faces at home. In fact, many of them were laid out by Vladimir Putin. We can talk about whataboutism, but the reality is several of the things that President Putin raised, from the shootings and the violence and the protests, were actually major challenges confronting this White House.

What I was so struck by, Wolf, in covering President Biden, Vice President Biden, Senator Biden for a very long time, his fluidity in discussing foreign affairs, he's much more at ease doing that than talking about voting rights, than talking about race, than talking about police reform, even infrastructure.

But those challenges, of course, await him at home. But for now, at least, what he has done is steered the conversation on the world stage, about China as well, you know, getting the specific mention of China in the NATO communique, talking about Russia for the first time in the NATO communique.

So there will be a clamoring on the world stage for Joe Biden to come back. But it may be a while because he, of course, has many issues waiting for him when he gets back late tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he's going to have his hands full when he gets back to Washington.

He's been on the road now, what, for eight days in the U.K., in Belgium, now Switzerland.

ZELENY: Right.

BLITZER: Now he's going to be heading back to Washington.

Matthew Chance is our Moscow correspondent. He's here with all of us in Geneva right now. You were at the Putin news conference, Matthew. You listened to the

response, the last word, if you will, from President Biden. What did you think?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, I didn't catch -- I didn't catch what President Biden said.

But, I mean, I have been listening to the analysis here, because we have all been kicked out. As you can see, these are all the journalists that were at the Kremlin press conference. And we were all being turfed out of the premises as soon as Vladimir Putin basically left.

But I was listening to what you were talking about in terms of how there are areas -- and I was listening to that joint statement -- there are areas of mutual cooperation that, even despite their disagreements in some areas, they can still cooperate, for instance, on arms control, on the Arctic and things like that.

And what struck me, though, is that those areas of potential cooperation were always there. They have always shared a common interest in better cybersecurity. They have always shared a common interest in arms control and in climate change. That is not the problem in this relationship, finding areas of common interest.

The problem in the relationship is that Vladimir Putin and the Russia that he presides over has been carrying out cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure, criminal gangs given harbor in Russia, or his intelligence services kind of hacking into servers in the United States.

[14:10:11]

He's been threatening -- his armed forces and the rebels that his country backs have been threatening neighboring countries, specifically Ukraine, but other countries as well. And, of course, he's cracking down on his internal opposition very badly, putting them in prison, trying to poison them, or actually poison them, in fact, with military-grade nerve agent.

Those are the things that have derailed the U.S.-Russian relationship. And no matter how well this summit went, no matter how President Biden spins this as a victory, unless Vladimir Putin stops that kind of activity, that malign activity around the world, then the relationship is going to remain on rocky ground.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Gloria Borger. Dana Bash is also in Washington. Get their analysis.

Gloria, President Biden, he is about to get on Air Force One, make the flight back to Washington tonight. How do you think what we have seen over these last few hours, the summit, the Putin news conference, now the Biden news conference, how do you think that's going to play when the president gets back home and he's got all these other issues he's got to deal with?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as Biden said himself, he came -- he did when it came to do.

And he's not claiming some kind of huge moment here. He's taking a wait-and-see attitude. And what I want to say is, after watching Biden for quite some time, both as a senator and a vice president, and now as president, this was pure Biden. He came out and he said, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings.

And he said it in the presser, he said, so there can be no misrepresentations. And what he did was, he did not question Putin's motives. We know what he thinks of Vladimir Putin. We know what he thinks of his human rights policies. We know what he thinks of his aggression in Ukraine. We know all of that.

But the way he negotiates -- and he does this on domestic policy -- is, you walk in, and he's not going to question your motive. He's going to say, well, how can we work this out? As he said, it's business. It's not personal.

So, he said: "We identified areas we can work together. We decided we would communicate directly, as I did, and then we laid out our priorities and our values. And then we're going to take a wait-and-see attitude."

They came out with this statement on strategic stability. A lot has to be seen. But what you saw today was effectively these two leaders sitting down, saying, look, we have no interest in a cold war here. And Biden made that point about Putin. Whether he's right in his interpretation remains to be seen.

I do not expect Vladimir Putin to change his behavior overnight. But Biden got it on the record about what will occur -- from the horse's mouth, what will occur if Putin continues his cyberattacks. He let him know how Americans feel about the issue of human rights. He mentioned the names of the two Americans who were being held that he wanted released face to face.

I think that is something that Biden came to do. And I think he did it. And we will have to see whether it gets resolved.

But there was a clear agenda here, done with Tony Blinken and the rest of -- and the State Department, national security team, the president of the United States. These were the things they wanted to discuss. And that is exactly what they got on the record.

BLITZER: Yes.

And, Dana, at least the U.S. ambassador, will now be going back to Moscow. The Russian ambassador will now be coming back to Washington. And there's going to be a dialogue, consultations, both of these leaders agreed, on this whole issue of cyberattacks, cyber warfare.

So there are some immediate potential positive developments.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are.

And just it's good that you said that, Wolf, as a reminder of just how low and how poor the relations have been up until this summit today.

One of the things that I just -- based on what Gloria was talking about, that this is vintage Joe Biden, one of the things that really struck me was how he was trying to get into Vladimir Putin's head. And by that, I mean the whole discussion that Biden had with reporters there about how he told Vladimir Putin, you want to be a great nation? Well, great nations have to interact with other nations.

And if you want to have a trade relationship, then those other things have to trust that you have the capability of having that kind of -- he didn't use the word moral authority. But he did say, if you have -- want to have business there, the businesses have to know that you're not going to imprison their businesspeople. If you want to be a power on the world stage, act like it.

[14:15:26]

And one of the reasons it struck me is because I remember covering George W. Bush, who told some of us reporters about how he really studied Putin before meeting with him, read biographies of Peter the Great and other Russian leaders that Putin is trying to emulate.

And he wants to get Russia and has wanted to get Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union back to that point of being such a powerhouse on the world stage, not just because of its nuclear weapons, but because of its economic prowess and so forth.

And the fact that Biden played on that, at least in the way he discussed it with reporters at that press conference, was so fascinating to me and, again, as Gloria said, so vintage Biden, because it is his understanding of human relationships and human condition that make him so fluid, as Jeff said, on the world stage.

BLITZER: The president's motorcade has arrived at the airport right here in Geneva. The president will be boarding Air Force One for this flight. I think it's about a seven- or eight-hour flight from Geneva, back to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C.

Isn't that right, Jim?

SCIUTTO: That's right.

I was thinking, to Dana's point about speaking to Putin, almost giving him advice, to say, hey, this is not the way forward for Russia, there's a danger in that approach, right, because if there's a country in the world and a leader who would not want to be preached to, it's Vladimir Putin and Russia.

And it struck me as a similar approach that the U.S. had to China. And if you remember this phrase, responsible stakeholder, U.S. diplomats and presidents used to say, China, to become -- to reach your full potential, you have to be a responsible stakeholder, you have to follow the rules of international order. China didn't listen to that, by the way.

China very much when it went its own way and is still going its own way, confident in their system, which, whether it's going to serve him well or not, Vladimir Putin is clearly very confident in his system and his approach to the world.

So that understanding of Biden's might not extend to successfully pressuring someone like Vladimir Putin.

WARD: And I think it's really important to understand we're looking closely and discussing whether this was a success from the perspective of the Biden administration, which, judging by that press conference, it seems they feel it was.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

WARD: I would say it was certainly also a success from the perspective of the Kremlin, because President Vladimir Putin stood up there, he shook hands with the leader of the free world, he stood tough on the issues that Russia cares about.

He leveled all sorts of allegations at the U.S., some of them painful, some of them obnoxious. And he went home really with what he wanted as well, which was certain guardrails to prevent the relationship from completely falling off the cliff, but no real substantial change in his behavior.

And so, from his perspective, I would say as well that President Putin is feeling pretty good about this. We saw both sides go to pains to make it clear that the bar was really low here. They may have achieved that bar. But there won't be any meaningful change, based on what we have seen, in terms of the way Russia comports itself on the world stage.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right that President Putin is pleased the way this is going to be played, that one-hour news conference he had at the end of this summit here in Geneva.

You see President Biden is at the airport here in Geneva taking some pictures with folks. I don't know if these are diplomats from the U.S. Embassy, U.S. diplomats who are here, but individuals who came to see the president and help the president, presumably, during his brief visit here to Geneva.

Kaitlan Collins, you're still with us as well. I know you're going to be heading back to Washington, and I'm going to be heading back to Washington.

The president will get there before you, before me. He's got a lot of work on his agenda once he gets back.

COLLINS: Yes, he does, Wolf.

I mean, that is the kind of the scene-setting that happened when he left Washington. He left behind a massive domestic agenda for the last several days and has been entirely focused almost on foreign policy. He's talked about things to change when it comes to infrastructure and whatnot, to strengthen America, in his view, on the world stage. But for the last several days, that has been his focus, is what has been happening here and establishing the United States abroad. But, of course, White House aides knew that, going into this summit, at the end of it -- or going into this week, that, at the end of it, it would not be the NATO trip or the E.U.-U.S. summit that would be whatever was looking at.

It was this summit with the Russian president and what the outcome of that was going to look like. And so, of course, those are raising the questions about what the future of this is going to be for the U.S.- Russia relationship.

[14:20:11]

We know what it has been in the past. And we have seen how sanctions that have been placed on Russia have not always deterred their behavior when it comes to election interference, when it comes to hacks like the SolarWinds hack that we have seen.

So, those are very important issues that are on President Biden's plate. And, of course, that is something that he is going to be still dealing with when he gets -- gets back to the United States. And the number one thing that, when you talk to White House officials, that they are going to be dealing with when he does return to the White House is infrastructure and these talks that have been happening behind the scenes with his top aides who stayed back in Washington and several key lawmakers.

And I think, right now, the White House is still trying to get a timeline on that of when those talks are going to be moving and making progress. We know that one of President Biden's top advisers, Steve Ricchetti, essentially communicated that they do have a new timeline of seven to 10 days of when they want to see if there's going to be progress.

Or, if not, you're going to see Democrats take a different route. And so that certainly is going to be a massive number one domestic priority for the president when he does return to Washington from this trip here abroad.

BLITZER: I think the president wants to say something to the press.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shouldn't have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.

Anyway, thanks for being here. And most of you have been here the whole route. I really do think -- not me, but I think we, the country, has put a different face on where we have been and where we're going.

And I feel good about it. I feel -- one of the things that I think, understandably, there was a good deal of skepticism about, would the G7 sign on and give America back its sort of leadership role? I think it did. It wasn't, but they're glad America is back. They're glad America is back.

And they acted that way. And then, when we went to NATO, I think it was the same thing. We had

really good meetings there (AUDIO GAP) as well as the E.U. I didn't get one single person, not one of the world leaders doing anything other than thank me for arranging a meeting with Putin.

And I thought, quite frankly, I was in a much better position to represent the West after the previous three meetings with Putin, that -- knowing that the rest of the West was behind us.

And so I -- I think -- so, I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

QUESTION: Mr. President, since you're now heading home, can I just ask you briefly about two domestic issues? The...

BIDEN: I'm not sure I can answer them, but...

QUESTION: If you could.

The first would be the fate of the infrastructure bill. There's now a bipartisan group that has a new offer. Have you had time to review it?

BIDEN: I haven't seen it.

QUESTION: OK.

BIDEN: No, I have not been -- I honestly haven't seen it.

I don't know what the details are. I know that my chief of staff thinks there's some room, that there may be a means by which to get this done.

And I know that Schumer and Nancy have moved forward on a reconciliation provision as well. So, I'm still hoping we can put together the two bookends here.

QUESTION: And the second issue is that, yesterday, or earlier this week, Mitch McConnell said that, if Republicans were to take back the Senate in 2022, he did not see a way that you could get a Supreme Court justice confirmed.

Do you have a response to that? Which would be next year.

BIDEN: No, I know. I know.

The answer is, Mitch is -- Mitch has been nothing but no for a long time. And I'm sure he means exactly what he says. But we will see.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you talk with President Putin about the Iran nuclear deal?

BIDEN: Yes.

QUESTION: Did you (OFF-MIKE) find a way?

What did you discuss? And did you find a way to make...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: It was about how we would jointly work. And I'm not going to discuss what we discussed.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) question that you answered at the very end there that you came over to talk about, the -- I think at the heart of it was this question of whether or not you seemed overly optimistic, given that what we all listened to, President Putin essentially say the same old things that he has said forever.

He -- rejecting all responsibility for that stuff. And I guess the question that she was trying to get, and maybe you can take another stab at it, is, what concrete evidence do you have from these three years -- hours -- three-plus hours that suggests that any movement has been made?

And I don't mean that to be...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: No, I know. But you're all...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... question.

BIDEN: Look, to be a good reporter, you got to be negative. You got to have a negative view of life, OK, it seems to me, the way you all -- you never ask a positive question.

Why, in fact, having agreement -- we will find out. We have an agreement to work on a major arms control agreement.

I started working on arms control agreements back all the way during the Cold War. If we could do one in the Cold War, why couldn't we do one now? We will see. We will see whether or not it happens.

[14:25:09]

But what do you -- I mean, the thing that always amazes me about the questions -- and I apologize for having been short.

If you were in my position, would you say, well, I don't think, man, anything is going to happen, it's going to be really -- I think it's going to really be bad?

You guarantee nothing happens. You guarantee nothing happens.

QUESTION: So, there's a value to...

BIDEN: So, so far -- there's a value to being realistic and put on an optimistic front, an optimistic face.

Look, you all said the same thing about the -- what was going to happen when we had the first meeting of the 7? Oh, Biden, they're not going to -- they're not going to buy Biden's stuff. They're -- they're really -- not really -- any of you find that? Did that happen, any of it?

A little bit, just a little sliver of it? When I went to meet with NATO, oh, boy, they're not going to be happy. They're all going to be against Biden meeting with Putin. They're not going to want that.

Did you hear a single solitary syllable? Now, what would have happened if I had said before I went into those negotiations, I think it's going to be really hard, I think it's going to be really difficult, I'm not so optimistic about it, I don't see anybody really changing?

And the same way when I met with the E.U. The E.U. is not going to like the way Biden is operating.

QUESTION: But this is Vladimir Putin.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: Sure, it's Vladimir Putin.

But, look, it was also -- not -- I don't compare him to Putin, but it was -- the French president said, he will never go for more money for NATO. Guess what? He's agreed.

Every -- I mean, look, guys, I'm going to drive you all crazy, because I know you want me to always put a negative thrust on things, particularly in public and negotiate in public.

I don't have to trust somebody. We didn't have to trust somebody to get START two. It wasn't about trust -- whether I trust the Russians. (OFF-MIKE) It was self-interest. I don't trust anybody -- look, I have got to get on the plane, but I will say it. You have heard me say this more than once.

QUESTION: It's your plane. You can go when you want.

BIDEN: Yes, I know.

But -- no, but here's the thing. Folks, I don't see any benefit ever to begin a negotiation -- and, I mean, you're the brightest people in the country. You're the most informed people on detail. I'm not being solicitous. You are.

But it makes no sense for me to negotiate with you. It makes no sense for me to tell you what I'm about to do. It makes -- not because I want to hide anything from you. Why would I telegraph that?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Was there any moment that you were really surprised by?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.

BIDEN: No, I wasn't surprised, because I'm convinced that -- let me choose my words.

Russia is in a very, very difficult spot. They are getting squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power. You all are writing about, not illegitimately, Biden already gave Putin what he wants, legitimacy, standing on the world stage with the president of the United States.

They desperately want to have -- be relevant. They have -- and they don't want to be known as, as some critics have said, the upper (INAUDIBLE) with nuclear weapons.

It matters. And I found it matters to almost every world leader, no matter where they're from, how they're perceived, their standing in the world. It matters to them. It matters to them in terms of their support at home as well.

And so I think that there is -- I'm trying to think how to shorten this, so I can get in the plane. I'm of the view that, in the last three to five years, the world has reached a fundamental inflection point about what it's going to look like in 10 years from now. I mean it literally.

It's not hyperbole. It's not like I'm trying to pump it up. I think it's a genuine reality.

And so each of the countries around the world, particularly those who had real power at one time or still do, are wondering, what -- how do I maintain and sustain our leadership in the world? That's what the United States is going through right now.

[14:30:00]