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Biden: "There Were No Threats" During Summit Talks With Putin; Biden Departs Geneva After Summit Talks With Putin; Biden, Putin Say Meeting Was Productive; Biden: Putin Agreed To Task Experts On Preventing Cyberattacks. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 14:30   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a genuine reality.

So each of the countries around the world, particularly those with real power at one time or still do, are wondering, how do I maintain our leadership in the world?

That's what the United States is going through right now. How do we sustain being the most power, most democratic country in the world? A lot's going on.

I don't know about you. I never anticipated, notwithstanding how persuasive President Trump was, that we would have people attacking and breaking down the doors of the United States capitol.

I didn't think that would happen. I didn't think I would see that in my lifetime.

But to reinforce what I've always known and what I got gout taught by my political science professor and senior members of the Senate that I admired when I got there, that every generation has to reestablish the basis in this fight for democracy.

I mean, for real. You literally have to do it.

I've never seen, including since the Civil War, such an outward assault on voting rights. Just a flat assault.

I didn't anticipate that happening four years ago, but it's happening now.

Each of the country, we have our own concern about it. But as long as I'm president, we are only going to stick to the notion that we're open, accountable and transparent. I think that's important and I think that's important as we transcend the world.

Thank you all for taking the time.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So there you saw something rather unusual for this president. You know, there's -- the stairs in the front of the Air Force One that go up there, but there are also stairs in the back.

There's always an Air Force One White House press pool, members of the White House Press Corps. They're about Air Force One.

But they always wait on the tarmac before the president climbs the stairs, as he is doing now, in case the president does want to say something.

It's pretty unusual for the president to walk back and speak to the press pool. In this particular case, he decided to do so.

And spent quality time, trying in his words, to clean up something. He wanted to apologize for what he said at the end of the news conference as he was leaving.

Our own Kaitlan Collins was asking him some questions.

Let me bring Kaitlan in.

Set the scene for us, Kaitlan. Because I want to play what the president said to the Air Force One press pool, and he made that gesture, to go back and speak and answer reporters' questions.

What you asked him, what he said at the time, he said, he suggested when he walked back, he wanted to apologize for being a wise guy.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That was because of the question/interaction at the end of the press conference.

Myself and several reporters were questioning the president about this major summit that happened into with the Russian leader.

My question was, what makes it confident that Putin could potentially change his behavior in the next three to six months, which was repeatedly a metric he cited in how to measure the success, when it comes to cybersecurity, when it comes to human rights.

At the end, he drew incredibly frustrated and irritated. He says he is not confident that Putin will change his behavior.

You'd believe he's confident, in that he did hold a summit to talk about these issues because the White House said they wanted to get a good indicator of where the U.S./Russia relationship could be going forward from here.

At the end, he did not like that line of questions. He then left to the airport. Where then he made these comments to the reports standing there.


BIDEN: I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn't have been such a wise guy in the last answer I gave.

Anyway, thanks for being here.


COLLINS: So, Wolf, there he is, apologizing for the way he responded to my question.

That is completely unnecessary from the president. He did not have to apologize. Though, I do appreciate he did in front of the other reporters as he was about to get on Air Force One.

When I was asking him that question, Wolf, I was just doing my job, which is to question the president, regardless if they're a Democrat or a Republican.

And asking the president a question does not mean it has a negative slant or a positive slant or a positive slant.

It is simply a way to get into the president's mindset of how he as viewing something, something as major as meeting with a world leader who has interfered in U.S. elections, jailed his political opponents, dismissed human rights, as he did at a press conference here in Geneva earlier today.

I do appreciate the president's apology but it's not necessary. It's just our job to ask the president questions. That's the business we are in.

And of course, we just want to get answers so people can find out what the president's mindset is, why he makes the decisions he makes, whether it's foreign, domestic, or anything represented to the presidency -- Wolf?


BLITZER: I will say this. President Biden did the right thing by going to the White House press pool.

I spent seven years as a White House reporter. I often stood in the back stair on the tarmac hoping a president would say something. Pretty unusual. Unusual. Occasionally, they would do it.

I don't know if President Biden has done that so far in these first few months, but it was nice he did that.

I know you have to catch a plane as well.


BLITZER: Kaitlan, I'll let you go.

Jeff Zeleny, you've spent a lot of time covering this president, also when he was vice president, also when he was a Senator. What do you think?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That was classic Joe Biden in both respects, snapping at Kailan for asking a perfectly legitimate question.

We saw that occasionally during the campaign, I've seen it on Capitol Hill. Staffers who have worked for Joe Biden for a long time, have seen a flash of temper.

But he also realized it was inappropriate, could perhaps be viewed as sexist, so he clearly wanted to clean it up and lighten the mood and take it off the table before getting on a plane, as all of the images and the narrative was set.

He wanted to take that off the table. We have seen President Biden do that.

What we have not seen him do is answer questions like that without his aides screaming at him to stop.

I have never seen a president, covering the last four of them, who is so protected by his aides in terms of not wanting him to answer questions.

They were silent today. He had a job to do. He recognized that.

He walked to the microphones and genuinely apologized to Kaitlan for asking a question.

So setting that aside here. We do, Wolf, I want to clear up one thing for history, as this summit comes to an end. There's been some confusion, was there one or two meetings?

We are learning there was still the meeting at the very beginning with President Biden and President Putin, the secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister.

Then there was about a 20-minute break and a second expanded meeting.

The confusion, which came to a quick conclusion, was that there was not two parts of that extended session. It was just combined into one part without a break.

They did meet for about three hours or so. Not the shortest summit, certainly not the longest, but that is what is unfolded earlier.

Again, as President Biden flies back to Washington, you can tell he's confident because of just his tone there at the end.

Of course, we will see what the actions of Vladimir Putin are, as Clarissa was saying earlier, he also goes back to Sochi confident. What comes next is the bigger question --Wolf?

BLITZER: Important point. Glad you clarified all of that.

Jim Sciutto, let's talk a bit. Putin is going back to Russia. I think he's pleased. Clearly,

President Biden is pleased as well. But the proof is what is in what happens next.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We entered with lower expectations deliberately by the White House and the Kremlin.

And you're leaving with a reasonable ability for both sides to claim something of a victory here.

They stood, they talked, they talked on the big issues. They didn't make progress, as we expected on the big issues.

They made process on the little issues, like exchanging ambassadors. And at least laid a path to discuss those bigger issues going forward, for instance expert consultations on the issue of cyber.

Clearly, you know, Biden is on Mars and Putin is on Venus when it comes to what's actually happening in cybersphere. But they're at least talking about it. By that standard, you could say it was a relatively positive event.

Also, the ability -- or the fact that both of them describe their rapport as workable, as constructive. That's no small thing --


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And you have to remember, as well, when they do back, now the hard work starts.

Now you actually have to verify all of the ideas and propositions that have been put into play, but, you know, the sense is you're not going to change President Putin's action.

And that's not the metric for success by the Biden administration. The metric for success is, do you prevent the further degradation of the relationship?

Do you provide certain areas of cooperation, where you can build guardrails and try to keep the relationship on something more of a predictable course?

Clearly, too early to say whether it was achieves. But it's important to remember what the bar is when we're talking two, three months, about whether success was achieved.

Don't expect President Putin to change. That was never on the table. This is about preventing a catastrophe.


BLITZER: You can see Air Force One on the tarmac getting ready to take off to return to Joint Base Andrews, outside of Washington, D.C.

We did see something extraordinary when the president, Jim -- I want to wrap it up with this. He came back and apologized to the news media for being, quote, "a wise guy."

As he was doing so, I said, can you sever imagine the former president doing anything along those lines, having a new conference, being a "wise guy" and then going out his way to apologize?

BLITZER: No, frankly, on our experience and lots of evidence, no. To his credit, he apologized.

Kaitlan's questions was the question we all face going forward. Biden says he has confidence that they can work together on these things.

Why? That will be proven only with actions, not with words. And that's going to be, you know, the test we're all going to be watching in the coming weeks and months.

BLITZER: We'll watch it very closely.

You see Air Force One is getting ready to take off.

To our viewers, thank you so, so much for joining us on this truly historic day. We're here in Geneva.

There's much more to come. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern for a special two-hour edition of the "THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our special coverage continues after this short break with CNN's Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

President Biden is now on his way back to the U.S. after negotiating one on one with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CAMEROTA: The meeting was expected to be five-plus hours but ended up only about two and a half hours.

Still, both leaders said the meetings were productive and constructive.


BIDEN: So there can be no mistake or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communication. I did what I came to do.

Number one, identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world.

Two, communicate directly, directly that the United States will respond to actions that impair or vital interests or those of our allies.

Three, to clearly lay out our country's priorities and our values, so he heard it straight from me.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I don't think there was any hostility. On the contrary, our meeting was obviously a fundamental one many of our joint positions divergent.

But nevertheless, I think both sides manifested determination to try to understand each other and try and converge our positions.

And I think it was very constructive.


BLACKWELL: Constructive but what did they accomplish? Putin said Russia and the U.S. have agreed to return their respective ambassadors to their posts. Probably over the next few days.

And the two nations will begin consultations on cybersecurity.

CAMEROTA: Joining us live from Geneva, CNN senior White House correspondent, Phil Mattingly, as well as Natasha Bertrand.

Phil, let's start there. What does the U.S. walk away? When President Biden, we walked him get on the plane, what does he come home with after this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, U.S. officials made very clear they had low expectations going into the summit in terms of what they could take off it.

What you heard from the president is President Biden is essentially satisfied. He did what he came to do with Putin, laying out areas where he believes there's a possibility of engagement between the two sides.

In fact, both sides agreeing to move forward at the staff level, on strategic ability talks, on cybersecurity talks, on a couple other issues as well, which is part of the goal.

But also making clear there were repercussions if certain guardrails were crossed.

The biggest thing the administration walks of here is they believe they established a relationship, which was at its lowest point since the Cold War. That's what they were seeking to do.

The biggest question becomes, how long does this last? Is anything tangible beyond starting these working groups, or saying that they have agreed to start working groups?

I think President Biden acknowledged the proof will be in the pudding, in his words, over the next three to six months.

Is President Putin, are the Russian teams willing to back up some of the dialogue they said they will continue to after this? Are they willing to deliver on anything, or are they just going to go back to where they've been throughout the course of the last several years?

It's important to note, President Biden kind of gave some insight into his thinking on the issue broadly, where he made clear.

That, you know, if a country isn't following the kind of rules of road of the international norms, then maybe other countries aren't going to want to do business there. Maybe other countries are going to work with that county.


That is a calculation that President Biden's predecessors have had, including the president he served as vice president for.

Because of their being isolated, perhaps that would change President Putin's behavior. That simply hasn't been a calculation that's come to fruition over the last several years.

So it's unclear how it would be different this time.

When you talk to U.S. officials, they made it clear they didn't want any grand outcomes here.

What they wanted was for the president to have an opportunity to make his case for U.S. interests, for possible areas of engagement and potential areas that the U.S. would respond to if Russia continues that behavior.

I think the president made clear that he believes he did that today.

BLACKWELL: Natasha, let's talk about strategy that was employed here. No ultimatums, no threats the president said were used.

Why that approach there? We've heard from some analysts that there somebody consequences that are clear publicly if the president crosses red lines. The president didn't employ those today.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there may be threats about the president wanting to call them threats. He did say afterwards that he told President Putin that the U.S. has cyber abilities that are very advanced.

And that Russia knows that, in the event that Russia were to cross any red lines in the cybersphere that Biden laid out there during that meeting. I think there were veiled threats there.

But, definitely, no outright ultimatums, right. Biden made it clear there were several things he wanted to see Russia make progress on.

For example, not targeting critical infrastructures in the United States. That they would if they discovered that the Russians were involved in attacking in any way in attacking those infrastructure entities.

But ultimately, this was Biden's way of introducing his relationship with Vladimir Putin to the world essentially.

For lack of a better word, the White House -- I know Phil doesn't like this word -- resetting the relationship from President Trump with Vladimir Putin, which, of course, was very, very different.

The president did not go until here with threats and ultimatums. But he was not exactly soft on the Russian president either.

He made it very clear that the United States will always bring up human rights.

He said that the Russians would face devastating consequences, if Alexei Navalny, the top opposition leader there in Russia, died.

And he raised the issue of the two detained Americans in Russia right now.

So, all of these things, along with, you know, the red line with regard to Ukraine and further aggression there, kind of factor into the understanding between these two leaders that this is going to be more of a normal relationship, moving forward.

But the real work begins now. Back when -- you know, the diplomats and the officials have to do the real groundwork here to ensure that this kind of cooperation does continue through the next three to six months.

CAMEROTA: Phil, I just want to play how President Biden characterized those so-called red lines when it came to cyberattacks because so many of us have been affected even indirectly by the ransomware attacks of late.


CAMEROTA: So, here's how he said he spelled it out.


BIDEN: 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's off limits.


CAMEROTA: That was so interesting to me, Phil. I didn't know that Biden would have to spell it explicitly what's off limits. But he said that's what he did.

MATTINGLY: I think the most interesting -- to be frank, this may be just a personal view, cyber security issues and cyberattacks are by far the most interesting element of this entire meeting.

This is at the core of what has preceded so much kind of disagreement, obviously. And considered maligned behavior over the course of the last several years between the two countries.

Obviously, you have election meddling and the SolarWinds act, which is coursing through the veins of federal government systems at the moment.

And the new piece that everybody has been clued in on in the last several weeks, ransomware attacks. Not state-sponsored, but obviously, from criminal syndicates based in Russia.


And throughout the entire process, President Putin has denied any knowledge of any of these things. And he did show again in this press conference today.

Part of the reason that the president felt he had to lay these issues out is because President Putin continues to deny their existence at all.

But I also think this is kind of an effort to try to set a baseline.

You know, one of the most difficult aspects of cyber, just generally, there aren't the traditional rules of the road as you saw with major weapons systems or nuclear weapons, when it comes to how countries operate, how they view norms. What is considered off-limits.

And if you attack something that's off limits, how dramatic will the response be.

I think what the president and the team are trying to do today and to wrap its head around, something that multiple administrations have done, is there a way to do this on scale?

Obviously, Russia would be the primary player, from the U.S. perspective, to try and get in line on some type of an agreement of a way forward.

I think this is one of the most difficult and complicated issues that the U.S. national security apparatus is facing right now.

Obviously, private companies and public infrastructure are facing this clearly right now.

I don't talk to any officials who believe there's a clear path forward with Putin and how Russians operate in this space.

But the core purpose of this conversation was to try to set a baseline down. And to obviously lay out that the U.S., which is starting to ratchet

offensive capability in cyberspace over the last several years, will clearly respond if they feel Russia is continuing its activities.

BLACKWELL: They've agreed to some expert consultation on cyber security. We'll see where that goes. The president says three to six months to see if this has been a success. We'll talk more about that.

Phil Mattingly, Natasha Bertrand, thank you both.

Quick break. We'll continue our coverage in just a moment.