Jun 14, 2021
Joe Biden Press Conference Transcript at NATO Headquarters June 14
President Joe Biden held a press conference on June 14, 2021 at the NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium. Read the full transcript of his speech at the NATO summit here.
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President Joe Biden: (02:48)
Good evening. Before I turn to today’s meetings, I want to say a short word about our ongoing fight against COVID-19 at home. We made enormous progress in the United States, much of the country is returning to normal. And our economic growth is leading the world, and the number of cases and deaths are dropping dramatically, but there’s still too many lives being lost. We’re still averaging in the last seven days the loss of 370 deaths per day, 30 to 70 deaths. That’s significantly lower than at the peak of this crisis, but it’s still a real tragedy. We’re approaching a sad milestone, almost 600,000 lost lives because of COVID-19 in America. My heart goes out to all those who’ve lost a loved one. I know that black hole that seems to consume you, that fills up your chest when you lose someone’s that close to you that you adored.
President Joe Biden: (04:05)
That’s why I continue to say to America, if you have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get vaccinated as soon as possible. We have plenty vaccinations, plenty of sites. We have more work to do to beat this virus, and now’s not the time to let our guard down. So please, please get vaccinated as soon as possible. We’ve had enough pain, enough pain.
President Joe Biden: (04:38)
Folks, I know it’s after 9:30 Brussels time, 9:30 PM and I’m still at NATO. You’re all excited about that, I know. But I’ve had a chance to meet with several leaders recently, and I’ve had calls with others, it’s been an incredibly productive day here.
President Joe Biden: (05:03)
I just finished meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey. We had a positive and productive meeting, much of it one-on-one. We had detailed discussions about how to proceed on a number of issues. Our two countries have big agendas. Our teams are going to continue our discussions, and I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States.
President Joe Biden: (05:34)
But now I want to thank Secretary General Stoltenberg for leading a very successful NATO summit today. I had the honor of leading off the discussion today among the 30 nations. And I pointed out that we’re facing a once in a century global health crisis, at the same time, the democratic values that undergird our alliance are under increasing pressure, both internally and externally. Russia and China are both seeking to drive a wedge in our transatlantic solidarity. We’re seeing an increase in malicious cyber activity, but our Alliance is still a strong foundation on which our collective security and our shared prosperity can continue to be built. And I made a point to make clear that the US commitment to Article Five of the NATO Treaty is rock solid and unshakable. It’s a sacred commitment. NATO stands together, that’s how we met every other threat in the past. It’s our greatest strength as we meet our challenges of the future and there are many.
President Joe Biden: (06:53)
And everyone in that room today understood the shared appreciation, quite frankly, that America is back. We talked about Russia’s aggressive acts that pose a threat to NATO and our collective security. That’s why I met with the Bucharest Nine, the Eastern flank allies in advance of this summit. And today also met with the leaders of the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I shared with our allies what I’ll convey to President Putin, but I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond to if Russia continues it’s harmful activities. And we will not fail to defend the Transatlantic Alliance or stand up for democratic values as allies.
President Joe Biden: (07:46)
As Allies we also affirmed our continued support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We agreed to keep consulting closely on nuclear deterrence, arms control and strategic stability. And there was a strong consensus in the room among the leaders in that meeting on Afghanistan. Our troops are coming home, but we agreed that our diplomatic, economic and humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people and our support for the Afghan national defense and security forces will endure. And I welcomed our allies and partners to recognize the counter-terrorism must continue to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe Haven for attacks on our countries, even as we take on terrorist networks in the Middle East and Africa.
President Joe Biden: (08:50)
And I’m deeply gratified that as an alliance, we adopted a far reaching plan to make sure NATO can meet the challenges that we face today and in the future, not yesterday, the NATO 2030 agenda. And that we agreed to fully resource that agenda. The last time NATO put together a strategic plan was back in 2010 when Russia was considered a partner and China wasn’t even mentioned. We talked about the long-term systemic challenges that Chinese activities pose to our collective security today. We agreed to do more to enhance the resilience of our critical infrastructures around the world, including trusted telecommunications providers, supply chains and energy networks. We agreed to enhance our cooperation with our democratic partners in the Indo-Pacific to meet challenges that exist there. We also endorsed the new cyber defense policy, NATO’s first in the past seven years, to improve the collective ability to defend against counter threats from state and non-state actors against our networks and our critical infrastructure.
President Joe Biden: (10:10)
And we adopted a climate security action plan, which several years ago people thought we never would do, for reducing emissions from NATO installations and adapting to the security risk of climate change while keeping a very, very sharp on our ability to deter and defend against threats.
President Joe Biden: (10:33)
And finally, we agreed that among the most important shared missions is renewing and strengthening the resilience of our democracies. I pointed out, we have to prove to the world and to our own people that democracy can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs of our people. We have to root out corruption that siphons off our strength, guard against those who would stoke hatred and division for political gain as phony populism. Invest in strengthening institutions that underpin and safeguard our cherish democratic values, as well as protecting the free press and independent judiciaries. All of those were on the agenda. That’s how we’ll prove that democracy and that our alliance can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs and the needs of our people.
President Joe Biden: (11:38)
This is going to be looked at 25 years from now as whether or not we stepped up to the challenge, because there’s a lot of autocracies that are counting on them being able to move more rapidly and successfully in an ever complicated world than democracies can. We all concluded we’re going to prove them wrong. And now I’m happy to take some questions. Cecilia Vega of ABC.
Cecilia Vega: (12:10)
Thank you so much, sir. Good evening. You mentioned your sit down with Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression that came up in your conversations today. I’d like to ask you two questions, if I may on that front. Is it your sense walking into this meeting that Americans back home shouldn’t expect much in terms of an outcome? Could you provide some specifics on what a successful meeting would look like to you, are they’re going to be specific concessions you want Putin to make?
Cecilia Vega: (12:39)
And then I’ll just give you my follow up right now. You’ve met Vladimir Putin before, what have you learned about him that informs how you approach this sit down with him? And what’s your mindset walking into a meeting with a former KGB agent who you’ve said has no soul.
President Joe Biden: (12:56)
I’ll tell you all that when it’s over. Look, I’ve been doing this a long time. The last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press as to how he’s going to approach a critical meeting with another adversary and/or someone who could be an adversary. It’s the last thing I’m going to do. But I will tell you this, I’m going to make clear to President Putin that are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses. And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cyber security and some other activities, then we will respond we will respond in kind.
President Joe Biden: (13:49)
There need not be, we should decide where it’s in our mutual interest and the interest of the world to cooperate and see if we can do that. And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are. I have met with him, he’s bright, he’s tough and I have found that he is, as they say, when we used to play ball, a worthy adversary. But the fact is that I will be happy to talk with you when it’s over, but not before about what the discussion will entail. Nancy Cordes, CBS.
Nancy Cordes: (14:35)
Thank you, Mr. President. I also have two questions about Vladimir Putin. The first is, have any of the world leaders you’ve met with this week expressed concern that by meeting with President Putin this early in your presidency that it’ll look like you’re rewarding him?
President Joe Biden: (14:52)
What’s your second question.
Nancy Cordes: (14:55)
The second question is what it will mean for the US/Russia relationship if Alexei Navalny were to die or be killed in prison?
President Joe Biden: (15:04)
Every world leader here as a member of NATO that spoke today, and most of them mentioned it, thanked me for meeting with Putin now, every single one that spoke. And I think there were probably about 10 or 12 that spoke to it, saying they were happy that I did that, that I was going to do that, and they thought it was thoroughly appropriate that I do. And I had discussions with them in the open about what they thought was important from their perspective and what they thought was not important.
President Joe Biden: (15:48)
And so the interesting thing is, I know… And I’m not being critical of the press, I really mean this, I give them my word. But generically, you all thought, “Was Biden meeting him too soon?” I haven’t found a world leader who doesn’t think it’s not soon… It’s just soon enough. Everyone that I’ve spoken to privately and public, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some out there, but it’s not likely that a head of state is going to stand up in front of 29 other heads of state and say, “Boy, I’m glad you’re doing this.” In effect. So there is a consensus and they thanked me for being willing to talk with them about the meeting and what I intended to do. So I haven’t found any reluctance, there may be someone, but not in open today or in the meetings privately had as well.
President Joe Biden: (16:47)
And Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy, it would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view and with me. Jeff Zeleny, CNN.
Jeff Zeleny: (17:29)
Sir, good evening. Thank you. In a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you had called him a killer. Is that still your belief, sir, that he is a killer? And I’ll continue the trend if you don’t mind of asking a second question, do you believe if he does agree to cooperate, then what kind of a challenge do you find yourself in? How would you ever trust him? And if Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” What do you say to Vladimir Putin?
President Joe Biden: (18:00)
Can I answer the first question? I’m laughing too. Well look, I mean, he has made clear that… The answer is, I believe he is in the past essentially acknowledged that there are certain things that he would do or did do. But look, when I was asked that question on air I answered it honestly, but it’s not much of a… I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have.
President Joe Biden: (18:45)
The second question was, [inaudible 00:18:56]-
Jeff Zeleny: (18:56)
President Joe Biden: (18:56)
I’d verify first and then trust. 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 the agreement you made, then the “treaties” off, the agreement’s off. And I’m hoping that that President Putin concludes that there is some interest in terms of his own interest in changing the perception that the world has of him in terms of whether or not he will engage in behavior that’s more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behavior for head of state. Anne Gearan, the Washington Post.
Anne Gearan: (19:57)
Thank you, Mr. President. Here at this meeting and earlier at the G7, you’ve said several times that America’s back at allies side, but a lot of those allies are themselves pretty rattled by what happened on January 6th an attempted overturning of your election, and they may still be alarmed by the continued hold that Donald Trump has over the Republican party and the rise of nationalist figures like him around the world. What do you say to those allies? What have you been saying to them at these meetings about how the next president of the United States can keep any promises you make?
President Joe Biden: (20:38)
What I’m saying to them is, watch me. I mean, I’m not saying anything quite frankly. I’m just going out, people, as I’ve said before, don’t doubt that I mean what I say and they believe that I keep my commitments when I say it. I’m not making any promises to anyone that I don’t believe are overwhelmingly likely to be kept. I think that we’re at a moment where… I mean, let me put it this way, you may have had a different view, but I think an awful lot of people thought that my showing up at the G7 would not produce any kind of enthusiasm about American leadership and about where America was. I would suggest that it didn’t turn out that way. I would suggest that there is a… The leaders I’m dealing with in NATO and the G7 are leaders who know our recent history, know generically the character of the American people and know where the vast center of the public stands, not Democrat, Republican, but who we are. We’re a decent, honorable nation.
President Joe Biden: (22:00)
And I think that they have seen things happen as we have that shocked them and surprised them that could have happened. But I think they, like I do, believe the American people are not going to sustain that kind of behavior. And so I don’t want to get into these statistics because you know that old phrase of Disraeli’s, “There’s three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” But I think it’s appropriate to say that the Republican party is vastly diminished in numbers. The leadership of the Republican party is fractured, and the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people. And we’ll see, we’ll see.
President Joe Biden: (23:02)
I believe that by standing up and saying what we believe to be the case, not engaging in the overwhelming hyperbole that gets engaged in by so many today, that we… I guess that old expression, the proof of the pudding is in eating. When I said I was going to deal with beating the virus and I was going to focus on that and I was going to get millions of shots in people’s arms, it wasn’t me. I just knew the American people. I knew the kind of help I’d get from the Defense Department, from police departments, from the hospitals, from retired docs, I just know. And look how rapidly we moved.
President Joe Biden: (23:55)
Now, we have a group of people who are everything from the political rejection of a notion of taking a vaccine, to people who are simply afraid of a needle and everything in between, we have a way to go. But I never doubted that we would be able to generate the kind of support we got and get so many millions of people to step up and get vaccinated. So I think it is a shock and surprise that what’s happened in terms of the consequence of President Trump’s phony populism has happened. And it is disappointing that so many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate who I know know better, have been reluctant to take on, for example, in an investigation, because they’re worried about being primaried.
President Joe Biden: (24:55)
But at the end of the day, we’ve been through periods like this in American history before where there has been this reluctance to take a chance on your reelection because of the nature of your party’s politics at the moment, I think this is a passing. I don’t mean easily passing, that’s why it’s so important that I succeed in my agenda, the agenda, whether it’s dealing with the vaccine, the economy, infrastructure, it’s important that we demonstrate we can make progress and continue to make progress, and I think we’re going to be able to do that. So, as I said, the proof will be in where it is six months from now, where we are. But I think you’re going to see that God willing, we’re going to be making progress and there’s going to be a coalescing of a lot of Republicans, particularly younger Republicans who are coming up in the party. And last question, Sebastian Smith of AFP.
Sebastian Smith : (26:02)
Thank you, Mr. President. Ukraine wants a clear yes or no on getting into the NATO Membership Action Plan, so what’s your answer? And if I may, a second part to the same question, well, now that Russia has invaded parts of Ukraine, does that effectively rule out Ukraine ever entering NATO given that being in NATO would mean the US and NATO having to defend Ukrainians against Russia? Thank you.
President Joe Biden: (26:28)
The second question is, the answer is no. The first question, it depends on whether they meet the criteria. The fact is they still have to clean up corruption. The fact is they have to meet other criteria to get into the action plan. And so school’s out on that question, it remains to be seen. In the meantime, we will do all that we can to put Ukraine in the position to be able to continue to resist Russian physical aggression, and it will not just depend on me whether or not we conclude that that Ukraine can become part of NATO, it will depend on the alliance and how they vote.
President Joe Biden: (27:10)
But I know for one thing, they have to convince, and it’s not easy. I made a speech years ago to the Rada saying that Ukraine had an opportunity to do something that’s never occurred in the history of Ukraine, actually generate a democratically elected and not corrupt led by oligarchies in any of the region’s nation. And I pointed out to them when I made that speech, that they will go down in history as the founding fathers of Ukraine, if in fact they do that. They have more to do, but that does not justify the fact they have more to do, Russia taking aggressive action, even in the Donbas or on the sea or in any part of Ukraine, And we’re going to put Ukraine in a position to be able to maintain their physical security. Thank you all so very much. Sorry, you’re all here so late. Thank you very much.