(CNSNews.com) – President Biden “confidently and skillfully donned the mantle of leader of the free world” on his just-completed foreign trip – a mantle that President Trump had “ceded,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan opined on Thursday.
“I really do not believe that it is hyperbole to say that Joe Biden returns from this trip as the clear and the consensus leader of the free world,” he told reporters in a teleconference briefing.
“And whether it’s standing with friends or engaging with difficult competitors like Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden showed throughout this trip that he is striding across the world stage with confidence and purpose, and a singular focus on defending American interests and values and those of our allies.”
Following the summit with Putin, Sullivan indicated that the administration was exploring options for Biden to engage directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping too. Biden on the trip spoke several times about the importance of face-to-face meetings.
“The notion that President Biden will engage in the coming month with President Xi in some way to take stock of where we are in the relationship and to ensure that we have that kind of direct communication that we found valuable with President Putin yesterday, we’re very much committed to that,” Sullivan said.
The eight-day, three-country visit encompassed G7, NATO and European Union summits, followed by Wednesday’s encounter with Putin.
Revisiting what became a theme running through the trip, Sullivan said the combined effect of the summits was to make “the case that democracies can deliver, for their own people and for people around the world.”
But he began his summation by laying out what the White House views as the headline achievement.
“The bottom line is that Joe Biden confidently and skillfully donned the mantle of leader of the free world on this trip. The previous president had ceded that mantle, and this president has now emphatically reclaimed it,” he said. “And as the foundational outcome for the trip, I think that is the most significant.”
Sullivan’s upbeat assessment was in stark contrast to criticism from some Republicans – including Trump – concerned about the fact Biden met with Putin at all, along with the perception that he had little to show for it.
Asked to respond to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s judgment that Biden had given Putin “a pass,” Sullivan did so at some length.
“His assertion is belied by the voluminous evidence that President Biden challenged President Putin on a range of issues that the previous president – who Representative McCarthy supported strongly – gave President Putin a pass on.”
“He challenged him on Aleksey Navalny. He challenged him on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He challenged him on the detained Americans – unjustly detained Americans in Russia. He challenged him on Russia's harmful cyber activities. He challenged him on election interference.”
“He didn’t side with Putin against the intelligence community on that – quite the contrary,” Sullivan continued, in a further dig at Trump. The previous president was accused of siding with Putin over the U.S. intelligence community, when asked during their 2018 summit in Helsinki whether he believed the Russian leader or the intelligence agencies on the issue of meddling in the 2016 election.
No undertakings on Syria, jailed Americans
Putin told a Russian reporter after the summit that he had felt “no pressure” from Putin.
Biden and Putin did agree to launch a dialogue to lay the groundwork for future arms control measures –the New START Treaty expires in 2026 – to bring experts together to consult on cyber security issues, and to return their withdrawn ambassadors to their respective postings.
But Biden got no commitment from Putin not to veto an upcoming U.N. Security Council resolution on allowing humanitarian access into northern Syria. Biden said he had pressed Putin on “the urgent need” to allow the provision of “simple food and basic necessities to people who are starving to death.”
“President Putin did not make a commitment as to how the Russians were going to vote on the resolution at the United Nations in July,” Sullivan said, “but it was a constructive conversation.”
Russia has vetoed 16 Syria-related resolutions since the start of the civil war, the most recent three of them on humanitarian corridors.
Biden also pressed for the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former U.S. Marines serving lengthy jail terms after what they claim were politically motivated convictions, but secured no agreement from Putin.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) had earlier urged Biden to make their release a condition for meeting with Putin.
Biden suggested in Geneva that Putin may be motivated to stop election interference or hacking because of concerns about his international credibility, saying that “it diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power.”
The notion that Putin cares about his international image drew a derisive response, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) commenting, “Putin could give a damn about what people think about him.”
Earlier on the trip, Biden met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under whose leadership Turkey has become NATO’s most troubling ally.
No progress was reported on one of the most significant disputes between the U.S. and Ankara – Erdogan’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, in defiance of NATO and U.S. wishes.
Erdogan told Turkish reporters afterwards he told Biden not to expect any shift from Turkey on the S-400 issue.
Asked Thursday what Turkey’s stance means in terms of its continuing participation in NATO, Sullivan said merely, “they discussed it. There was not a resolution of the issue. There was a commitment to continue the dialogue.”