WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Monday that he is “not walking anything back” after his weekend comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” although Biden insisted he’s not calling for regime change in Moscow.
“I was expressing the moral outrage that I felt toward this man,” he said. “I wasn’t articulating a policy change.”
Biden said he was not concerned that his comments would escalate tensions over the war in Ukraine.
“This is just stating a simple fact, that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The remark about Putin, which came at the end of a speech in Warsaw that was intended to rally democracies for a long global struggle against autocracy, stirred controversy in the United States and rattled some allies in Western Europe.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres responded to Biden’s comment by saying “we need de-escalation.”
“We need military de-escalation and rhetoric de-escalation,” he said Monday.
French President Emanuel Macron on Sunday said he “wouldn’t use those terms, because I continue to speak to President Putin, because what do we want to do collectively? We want to stop the war that Russia launched in Ukraine, without waging war and without escalation.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was forced to continue clarifying Biden’s speech during a trip through the Middle East, where he had intended to focus on solidifying American partnerships as the administration seeks a renewed nuclear agreement with Iran.
Speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem, Blinken said Biden meant that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”
Although the White House insisted after the speech that Biden was not calling for regime change, Republicans questioned why he decided to go off-script when dealing with a combustible conflict.
Some said Biden’s provocative rhetoric was strange given his otherwise cautious approach, such as refusing to facilitate the transfer of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine’s military.
“If we’re so worried about provoking him that we couldn’t even send MiGs into Ukraine, how is this any different?” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “In fact, I would say it’s more provocative than sending MiGs into Ukraine.”
The U.S. has been rushing weapons like anti-tank missiles into Ukraine, and is considering providing anti-ship missiles to make it harder for Russia to mount an amphibious offensive along the Black Sea coast.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy remains exasperated with the pace of military assistance, accusing Western leaders of cowardice and repeating his request for tanks and fighter jets.
Associated Press writer Edith Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.