US President Joe Biden showed up two-and-a-half hours late for a media conference in Brussels today, where he was grilled about his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Biden, currently on his first overseas trip since taking office, is holding a bilateral meeting with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
Today he met with NATO leaders, and one topic of discussion was “Russia’s aggressive acts” which “pose a threat to NATO and our national security”.
“I shared with our allies what I’ll convey to President Putin: that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities. And we will not fail to defend NATO or stand up for democratic values,” Mr Biden said.
There was an awkward moment midway through the press conference as Mr Biden was asked whether he still stood behind previous remarks as a candidate calling Putin a “killer”.
Putin was himself asked about those remarks in a recent TV interview. The Russian leader laughed at the question and said it was not “something I worry about in the least”.
“In a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you had called him a killer. Is that still your belief, that he is a killer?” a reporter asked Mr Biden today.
The US President also began his answer by laughing.
“I’m laughing too,” he said.
“Actually I – well, look, he has made clear that uh, uh …”
There was an excruciatingly long pause at this point – seven seconds of silence – as Mr Biden pondered his response.
“The answer is, I believe he has in the past essentially acknowledged that there were certain things he would do, or did do,” he finally continued.
“But look. When I was (first) asked that question on air, I answered it honestly, but I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have.”
Not the clearest of answers, then.
The same reporter also asked Mr Biden how he could ever trust Putin’s word, if he agreed to co-operate with the US.
“I’d verify first and then trust,” said Mr Biden.
“In other words, everything would have to be shown to be actually occurring. It’s not about trusting, it’s about agreeing.
“When you write treaties with your adversaries, you don’t say, ‘I trust you.’ You say, ‘This is what I expect, and if you violate what we agreed to, the treaty’s off.’
“I’m hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest, in terms of his own interest, in changing the perception the world has of him. In terms of whether or not he will engage in behaviour that’s more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behaviour for a head of state.”
A handful of other significant questions came up during the media conference. Read on for a quick summary.
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Author: Sam Clench
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