Biden explains decision to avoid joint press conference with Putin

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President Biden on Sunday said he chose not to hold a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next week because he doesn’t want the meeting to be “diverted” by details of a public appearance of both leaders.

“I always found, and I don’t mean to suggest the press should not know, but this is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden told reporters during a press conference at Cornwall Airport Newquay. “It’s about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship are with Russia.” 

“I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet, he and I to have our discussion. I know you don’t doubt that I’ll be very straightforward with him about our concerns, and I will make clear my view of how that meeting turned out, and he’ll make clear from his perspective how it turned out,” Biden continued. “I don’t want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands, who talked the most and the rest.”

The White House disclosed Saturday that Biden would take part in a solo news conference after the two leaders hold their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office on Wednesday.

The decision means that the public portion of the meeting will depart from the 2018 summit between Putin and then-President Trump, which descended into controversy when Trump publicly doubted the U.S. intelligence assessment about Russian interference alongside Putin at a joint press conference.

The setup also means that while Biden is expected to press Putin privately on his destabilizing and aggressive activity, he will not call out the Russian leader for his actions in a public setting when the two are in the same room. 

Biden insisted Sunday at a press conference following a Group of Seven summit that he would not hold back from raising concerns in his meeting with Putin while also saying that the U.S. is not seeking conflict with Russia.

“We are not looking for conflict. We are looking to resolve those actions which we think are inconsistent with international norms, number one. Number two, where we can work together, we may be able to do that in terms of some strategic doctrine that may be able to be worked together. We’re ready to do it,” Biden said, mentioning climate change as a potential area of agreement.

Biden also sought to manage expectations for the meeting, acknowledging that there’s the possibility that Putin will not change his behavior even if Biden imposes consequences. Thus far, sanctions imposed by successive administrations have not caused Russia to alter its behavior in Ukraine, stop government-sponsored cyberattacks or limit election interference. 

“There is no guarantee that you can change a person’s behavior or the behavior of his country. Autocrats have enormous power, and they don’t have to answer to a public, and the fact is that it may very well be that if I respond in kind, which I will, that it doesn’t dissuade him. He wants to keep going,” Biden said.

“But I think we are going to be moving in a direction where Russia has its own dilemmas, let’s say, dealing with its economy, dealing with COVID and dealing with not only the United states but Europe writ large and the Middle East,” he continued.

Biden also said he agreed with Putin that U.S.-Russia relations are at a “low point.”

Asked about recent comments made by Putin suggesting that Russia could extradite cyber criminals to the U.S. in a reciprocal fashion, Biden said he was open to the idea. 

“I’m open to, if there’s crimes committed against Russia … and the people committing those crimes are being harbored in the United States, I am committed to holding them accountable,” Biden said, noting that he just learned of the Russian president’s comments when aboard Air Force One.

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