Sunday , July 3 2022

American Officials Try to Walk Back Biden’s Comments on Putin

Administration officials and lawmakers stressed on Sunday that the United States was not seeking regime change in Russia over President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine despite President Biden’s comment that the Russian leader “cannot remain in power.”

Capping a series of diplomatic summits in Europe, Mr. Biden delivered a speech on Saturday in Poland about the war in Ukraine. An apparently ad-libbed remark at the conclusion of his address — “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” — quickly eclipsed the rest of his speech.

Government officials — from the White House to senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill — were quick to say that the remark was not intended as a call for a regime change, underscoring the precarious effort to punish Russia for attacking Ukraine while avoiding an escalation in the war.

On Sunday, U.S. officials were still trying to walk back and clarify the comment.

“We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told journalists in Jerusalem after meeting with Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”

Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Mr. Biden’s remarks were “a principled human reaction” to the Ukrainian refugees he had met in Warsaw. But, she insisted, “the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop.”

Senior lawmakers maintained a similar position on Sunday, with Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, saying he wished Mr. Biden “would stay on script.”

Mr. Risch said that even suggesting regime change would inevitably “cause a huge problem,” calling the remark a “horrendous gaffe” in an otherwise good speech.

“The administration has done everything they can to stop escalating — there’s not a whole lot more you can do to escalate than to call for a regime change.” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’ll walk it back right now — that is not the policy of the United States of America,” he added. “Please, Mr. President, stay on script.”

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the comment “plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” though he described the speech as “very strong, despite the ad-lib at the end.”

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, echoed comments from the White House.

“It is up to the Russian people to determine who is going to be in power in the Kremlin,” he told CNN.

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “the fact is, anytime the United States has said — spoke out for a regime change, it hasn’t worked out so well.”

“I know it was off the cuff, but whatever the president says, it carries a lot of weight,” Mr. McCaul told CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said the remark threatened to overshadow the push to send additional military assistance and other aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.


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