National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday pushed back strongly against the argument that the U.S. has little to show for the highly anticipated summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held earlier this week.
“I just don’t buy the argument which says this was not worth it for the United States,” Sullivan said on CNN. “As President Biden himself said, he did what he came to do and I think America’s come out better for it.”
Both Biden and Putin described their meeting as amicable and constructive, which critics have seized upon to further fuel the argument that Biden gave Putin a big win by meeting face-to-face so early in his administration.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Biden gave “Putin a pass.” Alexander Vindman, the director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council from 2018 to 2020, wrote that Russia walked away with a “public relations win” while the U.S. has “little to show in terms of tangible improvements to national security.”
Sullivan attacked those arguments, noting Putin commands a significant global platform as Russian leader.
“It’s called being president of one of the major nuclear powers of the world,” Sullivan said. “So from our perspective, we need to deal with him. We need to deal with him in a strong, determined and principled way.”
Sullivan then invoked former Biden’s predecessor, saying Putin has not been challenged by a U.S. president on “hard issues” in “some years now,” given former President Donald Trump’s dealings with the Russian leader.
“For that purpose alone, it was worth it to sit down with President Putin,” Sullivan said. “But even beyond that, President Biden was advancing America’s national security interests, reducing the risk of nuclear war, increasing the possibility that we can make progress on issues related to cybersecurity and other areas that are in the fundamental national interest of the United States.”
Sullivan was also pressed on how the U.S. would respond if Russia continues malign activity such as cyberattacks on the 16 areas of critical infrastructure Biden referenced Wednesday. Sullivan echoed the president’s comments and said the U.S. has significant cyber capabilities that it’s prepared to use if Russia does not rein in cybercriminals operating on its soil.
“I won’t go into further detail now, but President Biden did clarify to President Putin our capacities and his full willingness to use them if necessary depending on how things develop,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan broadly praised his boss’s performance in his first trip abroad, saying Biden “reclaimed” the “mantle of leader of the free world.” He highlighted the collaboration among G-7 countries on how to tackle China.
Sullivan said the president has no set plans to meet with President Xi Jinping of China, and that he’s waiting for the “right moment.”
“President Biden, of course, is going to want, at the right moment, to have the opportunity to sit down with President Xi Jinping for a similar reason to his sitting down with President Putin, which is that there is no substitute ultimately for face-to-face dialogue between leaders, particularly with complex relationships like the relationship between the United States and China,” Sullivan said.
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