Geneva, Switzerland, 8:21 P.M. CEST
THE PRESIDENT: I owe my last question an apology. I shouldn’t have — I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.
Anyway, thanks for being here. And most of you have been here the whole route. I really do think — not me, but I think we, the country, has put a different face on where we’ve been and where we’re going. And I feel good about it. I feel —
You know, one of things that I think, understandably, there was a good deal of skepticism about: would the G7 sign on and give America back it’s, sort of, leadership role. I think it did. It wasn’t me, but it meant they’re glad America is back. They’re glad America is back, and they acted that way.
And then, when we went to NATO, I think it was the same thing. We had really good meetings there and real response, as well as the EU. I didn’t get one single person — not one of the world leaders said to us anything other than thanking me for arranging a meeting with Putin. And I thought, quite frankly, I was in a much better position to represent the West, after the previous three meetings with Putin, that — knowing that the rest of the West was behind us. And so, I think — so I owe them all a debt of gratitude.
Q Mr. President, since you’re now heading home, can I just ask you briefly about two domestic issues?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not sure I can answer them, but —
Q If you could. First would be this fate of the infrastructure bill. There’s now a bipartisan group that has a new offer. Have you had time to review it?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen it. No, I — I’m not being — I honestly haven’t seen it. I don’t know what the details are. I know that my Chief of Staffs thinks there’s some room that there may be a means by which to get this done. And I know that Schumer and Nancy have moved forward on a reconciliation provision as well. So I’m still hoping we could put together the two bookends here.
Q And the second issue is: Yesterday — or earlier this week, Mitch McConnell said that if Republicans were to take back the Senate in 2022, he did not see a way that you could get a Supreme Court justice confirmed. Do you have a response to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Uh —
Q This would be next year.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I know. I know. The answer is: Mitch is — Mitch has been nothing but “no” for a long time. And I’m sure he means exactly what he says, but we’ll see.
Q Mr. President, did you talk with President Putin about the Iran nuclear deal?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Did you make — find a way? What did you discuss, and did you find a way to make some progress?
THE PRESIDENT: It was about how we would jointly work, and I’m not going to discuss what we discussed.
Q Mr. President, Kaitlan’s question that you answered at the very end there, that you came over to talk about, I think at the heart of it was this question of whether or not you seem overly optimistic, given that — what we all listened to President Putin essentially say the same, old things that he’s said forever. He — you know, rejecting all responsibility for all that stuff.
And I guess the question that she was trying to get, and maybe you could take another stab at it, is: What concrete evidence do you have from these three — three plus hours that suggest that any movement has been made?
And I don’t — I don’t mean that to be — I’m not — it’s not meant to be a — (inaudible) —
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no. No. I know, but you’re all —
Q — (inaudible) question.
THE PRESIDENT: Look, to be a good reporter, you got to be negative. You got to have a negative view of life — okay? — it seems to me, the way you all — you never ask a positive question.
Why, in fact, having agreement — we’ll find out. We have an agreement to work on a major arms control agreement.
I started on working on arms control agreements back all the way during the Cold War. If we could do one when the Cold War, why couldn’t we do one now? We’ll see. We will see whether or not it happens.
But what do you — I mean, the thing that always amazes me about the questions — and I apologize for having been short on this before.
If you were in my position, would you say, “Well, I don’t think, man, anything is going to happen. This is going to be really rough. I think it’s going to really be bad”? You’d guarantee nothing happens. You’d guarantee nothing happens.
And so, so far —
Q So, there’s a value to —
THE PRESIDENT: There’s a value to being realistic and put on an optimistic front, an optimistic face.
Look, you all said the same thing about the, you know, what was going to happen when we had the first meeting of the — of — of the seven. “Oh, Biden — they’re not going to — they’re not going to buy Biden’s stuff. They’re really not really…”
Any of you find that? Did that happen? Any of it? A little bit? Just a little sliver of it?
When I went to meet with NATO — “Oh boy, they’re not going to be happy. They’re all going to be against Biden meeting with Putin. They’re not going to want that.” Did you hear a single, solitary syllable?
Now, what would have happen if I had said, before I went into those negotiations, “You know, I think it’s going to be really hard. I think it’s going to be really difficult. I’m not so optimistic about — I don’t see anybody really changing”?
And the same way when I met with the EU. “The EU is not going to like the way Biden is operating.”
Q But this is Vladimir Putin. I mean, can you be optimistic about his change?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure, it’s Vladimir Putin. But, look, it was also — I don’t want to compare him to Putin, but it was — the French President said he will never go for more money for NATO. Guess what? He’s agreed.
Every — I mean, look, guys, I’m going to drive you all crazy because I know you want me to always put a negative thrust on things, particularly in public, and negotiate in public.
I don’t have to trust somebody — we didn’t have to trust somebody to get START II. It wasn’t a about our trust — “Well, I trust the Russians. I can tell, man, they’re really — they’re — I can look in his eye, and they’re really very, very truthful.” It’s not that at all.
You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybod- — look, I’ve got to get in the plane, but I’ll say it — you’ll hear me say this more than once.
Q It’s your plane. You can go when you want. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, no, but — no, but here’s the thing: Folks, I — I don’t see any benefit ever to begin a negotiation as — and, I mean, you’re the brightest people in the country. You’re the most informed people on detail. I’m not being solicitous; you are. But it makes no sense for me to negotiate with you. It makes no sense for me to tell you what I’m about to do. It makes — not because I want to hide anything from you. Why would I telegraph that?
Q Did he do anything that surprised you, sir?
AIDE: Sir, we need to go. Sir, we really have to go.
Q Was there any moment that you were really surprised by?
AIDE: Sir — thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I wasn’t surprised because I was convinced that — let me choose my words. Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. They are being squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power. You all are writing about, not illegitimately, “Biden already gave Putin what he wants: legitimacy, standing in the world stage with the President of the United States.” They desperately want to have — be relevant.
They have — and they don’t want to be known as, as some critics have pointed and said, you know, the “Upper Volta with nuclear weapons.” It matters. And I found it matters to almost every world leader — no matter where they’re from — how they’re perceived, their standing in the world. It matters to them. It matters to them in terms of their support at home as well.
And so I think that there is — I’m trying to think how to shorten this so I can get in the plane.
I’m of the view that, in the last three to five years, the world has reached a fundamental inflection point about what it’s going to look like 10 years from now. I mean it literally. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not like I’m trying to pump it up. I think it’s a genuine reality.
And so each of the countries in — around the world, particularly those who had real power at one time or still do, are wondering: What — how do I maintain and sustain our leadership in the world? That’s what the United States is going through right now. How do we sustain us being the leading, the most powerful, and most democratic country in the world? A lot is going on.
I don’t know about you, I never anticipated, notwithstanding no matter how persuasive President Trump was, that we’d have people attacking and breaking down the doors of the United States Capitol. I didn’t think that would happen. I didn’t think we’d — I’d see that in my lifetime. But it’s reinforced what I’ve always known and what I got taught by my political science professors and by the senior members of the Senate that I admired when I got there: that every generation has to re-establish the basis of its fight for democracy. I mean, for real, literally have to do it.
And I’ve never seen, including during — since the Civil War, such an outward assault on voting rights. I mean, just a flat assault. I didn’t anticipate that happening four years ago, but it’s happening now.
So, there’s a lot at stake. Each of the countries, we have our own concerns and problems, but we still — as long as I’m President, we are going to stick to the notion that we’re open, accountable, and transparent. And I think that’s an important message to send the world.
Thank you all so much.
8:31 P.M. CEST
Geneva, Switzerland, 8:21 P.M. CEST