Joe Biden

Interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN's "Global Public Square"

July 09, 2023

ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): We have an important program for you today. With the president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden. I sat down with the president in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday for an exclusive interview.

President Biden is headed to Europe for a trip that will take him to Vilnius, Lithuania for NATO's annual summit.

THE PRESIDENT: Holding NATO together is really critical.

ZAKARIA: It has been 500 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Is there any sign of an end to this war? And will NATO offer Ukraine membership?

Also, is there a foreign relations with China or are we going to see an even more intense rivalry? And when can Bibi Netanyahu expect an invitation to the White House? All of this in a special interview with America's 46th president.

THE PRESIDENT: I think we have enormous opportunities and I just want to finish the job.


ZAKARIA: I'll bring you my take later in the show but first President Biden is headed to Europe today for a five-day, three-country tour. The main focus of which will be a stop in Vilnius, Lithuania for NATO's annual summit.

NATO leaders had hoped to be celebrating Sweden joining the alliance at the summit this week but Turkey has blocked the process. Meanwhile, today marks 500 days of Russia's war in Ukraine and the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues. It is an important moment for NATO and an important moment for President Biden on the world stage.

I sat down with the president in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday for a wide-ranging interview about his foreign policy.


ZAKARIA: Mr. President, an honor to have you on the program.

THE PRESIDENT: Good to be with you. Thanks for having me.

ZAKARIA: When you go to the NATO summit, the big strategic issue is that Ukraine wants membership in NATO. Should it get membership in NATO?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think it's ready for membership in NATO. But here's the deal. I spent, as you know, a great deal of time trying to hold NATO together because I believe Putin has had an overwhelming objective from the time he launched 185,000 troops into Ukraine, and that was to break NATO. He was confident, in my view and many in the intelligence community, he was confident he could break NATO.

So holding NATO together is really critical. I don't think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war. For example, if you did that, then, you know, and I mean what I say, we're determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory as a commitment that we've all made no matter what.

If the war is going on, then we're all in a war. You know, we're in a war with Russia if that were the case. So I think we have to lay out a path for the rational path for Russia, for -- excuse me, for Ukraine, to be able to qualify to get into NATO. And we have -- when the very first time that I met with Putin two years ago in Geneva and he said I want commitments on no Ukraine and NATO, I said we're not going to do that because it's an open-door policy. We're not going to shut anybody out.

NATO is a process that takes some time to meet all the qualifications and -- from democratization to a whole range of other issues. So in the meantime, though, I've spoken with Zelenskyy at length about this, and one of the things I indicated is the United States would be ready to provide while the process was going on, and it's going to take a while, while that process was going on to provide security ala the security we provide for Israel, providing the weaponry and the needs, capacity to defend themselves if there is an agreement, if there is a cease-fire, if there is a peace agreement.

And so I think we can work it out, but I think it's premature to say to call for a vote now because there is other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization and some of those issues.


ZAKARIA: The short-term issue at the NATO summit is Sweden. Will Sweden -- do you think, are you optimistic that Sweden will be invited to join NATO relatively soon?

THE PRESIDENT: I am. I am. I have met recently with the Swedish prime minister here. Sweden is a -- has the same value set that we have in NATO. A small nation but has the capacity to defend itself. They know how to fight and they're -- and I think they should be a member of NATO. You know better than anyone, the holdup is Turkey. Turkey and Sweden is making adjustments in their law to relate to whether or not these people burning the Quran.

Well, they aren't Swedes that are burning the Quran. They are migrants who are burning the Quran. And that puts -- that gives an excuse and/or it puts Erdogan in a tough spot at home. And so they're moving to stop that, number one. Number two, there is a -- Turkey is looking for modernization of F-16 aircraft. And Mitsotakis in Greece is also looking for some help. And so what I'm trying to quite frankly put together is a little bit of a consortium here where we're strengthening NATO in terms of the military capacity of both Greece as well as Turkey, and allow Sweden to come in. But it's a -- it's in play. It's not done.

ZAKARIA: But you're hopeful.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hopeful. As a matter of fact I'm optimistic.

ZAKARIA: You have news -- the news is that the administration is going to provide cluster munitions to the Ukrainians. These are weapons that 100 nations banned, including some of our closest NATO allies. When there was news that the Russians might be using it admittedly against civilians your then press secretary said this might be constitute war crimes. What made you change your mind and decide to give them these weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: Two things, Fareed. I know it's a very difficult decision in my part. And by the way, I discussed this with our allies, discussed this with our friends up on the Hill, and we're in a situation where Ukraine continues to be brutally attacked across the board by munitions, by these cluster munitions that are -- have dud rates that are very, very low, I mean, very high that are a danger to civilians, number one.

Number two, the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition. The ammunition that they used to call them 155-millimeter weapons. This is a war relating to munitions, and they are running out of that ammunition and we're low on it. And so what I finally did, I took the recommendation of the Defense Department to, not permanently, but to allow for in this transition period where we have more 155 weapons, these shells for the Ukrainians, to provide them with something that has a very low dud rate. It's about -- I think it's 1.50, which is the least likely to be blown.

And it's not used in civilian areas. They're trying to get through those trenches and stop those tanks from rolling. And so -- but it was not an easy decision. And it's not -- we're not signatories of that agreement. But I -- it took me a while to be convinced to do it. But the main thing is they either have the weapons to stop the Russians now from their -- keeping them from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas, or they don't. And I think they needed them.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, America's secretary of the Treasury just wrapped up a visit to China on the heels of a similar visit by the secretary of State. Is this a sign of a thawing of relations or will tensions between two the great powers continue to rise?

I'll ask President Biden about his China policy when we come back.



ZAKARIA: Today Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrapped up a four-day trip to Beijing that was designed to ease U.S.-China tensions. That comes on the heel of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to China last month. Despite this flurry of high-level diplomacy, the relationship has rarely been more tense. Each side is sparring over technology. Conflict over Taiwan remains a dangerous possibility and President Biden has enraged Beijing with statements indicating the U.S. would come to Taiwan's aid in a confrontation.


SCOTT PELLEY, CBS "60 MINUTES": Would U.S. forces defend the island?



ZAKARIA: Where does the relationship go from here? I asked President Biden.


ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about China policy. Recently there have been announcements of new restrictions on Chinese companies relating to cloud computing. The Chinese are now beginning to make -- put restrictions in place on critical materials relating to semiconductors.

When I travel around the world, the sense I get is people are wondering, where is this going? Is this a ratchet where the United States will keep doing things like this, the Chinese will start responding and this goes on, or do you think there is a kind of stable point here where U.S.-China relations can be, as you have often said, competitive but also when necessary cooperative?


THE PRESIDENT: The answer is I think there is a stable point. But, look, if you don't mind my saying, just before going on air we talked about things are changing in the world. China is influx right now as well. China has enormous potential capacity but enormous problems as well. And so there is two things that I have tried to do in terms of our China policy. And by the way, I have met first the person with Xi Jinping more than any other world leader. 68 hours alone he and I with an interpreter back when I was vice president all the way through because as you remember it was clear he was going to be president and it wasn't inappropriate for the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to be traveling the world with him.

But I traveled 17,000 miles with him when I was vice president in China. And so we understand each other I think fairly well, number one. Number two, everything is changing. You know, you heard me say it before. The world is an inflection point. No matter what was happening, China is in a different place right now internally. Internally. I'll give you an example. He often says to me -- not often, on two occasions, called me and said why am I criticizing what's going on with western China and slave labor, et cetera.

And I said, remember, you told me that for China to be able to be secure, it needs to have one leader, a united China from Taiwan to the Tibetan Plateau, and that's when China has always done, we're going all the way back to the time when we have (INAUDIBLE). And I said -- and so for me not to talk about -- and you told me for you not to talk about unity of China would be able to lead. I said, well, the United States is the most unique nation in the world. We are organized based on an idea, for real. And not only idea. We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women are created equal, et cetera.

And we live up to it, we never walked away from it. And for me, for an American president to remain silent on slave labor would be totally inconsistent. And so I think -- well, I guess what I'm trying to say is -- I'm sorry to go on so long, is that I think there is a way to resolve -- to establish a working relationship with China that benefits them and us. And the last thing I'll tell you on this, is I also called him after he had that meeting with the Russians about this new relationship, et cetera.

And I said, this is not a threat, this is an observation. I said, since Russia went into Ukraine, 600 American corporations have pulled out of Russia. And you've told me that your economy depends on investment from Europe and the United States. And be careful. Be careful. And so he --

ZAKARIA: What did he say?

THE PRESIDENT: He listened and he didn't argue. And if you notice, he has not gone full bore in Russia. He is -- he talks about nuclear war being a disaster. You know, there is such a thing as security that is needed. Anyway, so, I think there is a way we can work through this and that's why I spent so much time beefing up -- I think if I told you three years ago, which I had written about in my notes, that I was going to get Japan deeply involved. Have them change their defense budget, have them work -- not that I've done it, but work with South Korea, work something out.

We're going to put together the Quad which is India, Australia, the United States and Japan. I got a call from him on that. He said why are you doing that. I said we're not doing that to surround you, we're doing that to maintain stability in the Indian Ocean and in the South China Sea. Because we believe the rules of the road about what constitutes international air space, international space and the water should be maintained. And so I just think it's going to take a little time. But, and where

it goes, depends a lot on what he's able to do internally in terms of his economy.

ZAKARIA: Do you think he wants China to replace the United States as the leading power, the defining power --

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, I think he does. I mean, you know, I'm confident he wants to have the largest economy in the world and have us -- the largest military capacity in the world.

ZAKARIA: Rewrite the rules of the international order?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so. Not all of them, but he says, he pointed out to me, he said we weren't there when those rules were written about international air space and so on.


And, but I don't think he wants -- he's looking for war conflict, expansion of territory. And he, look, I sometimes say to my colleagues, I've spent over 180 hours talking with my NATO colleagues and European colleagues in person or around Zoom, I say to them, do you know anybody, any world leader who'd trade places with Xi Jinping? OK. I'll take their problems and you take mine. I don't know anybody would. Because it's not that he's a bad guy or a good guy, the circumstances are enormously complicated.

For example, you know, the whole notion of, you know, this new ring road that's going to put around -- going to invest in other nations. Well, it's ended up producing (INAUDIBLE). You know, these countries are in real trouble. And so, but it requires us to be more responsible. The West. I've been pushing very hard to get our European colleagues to invest in infrastructure in Africa, in South America, and to generate the kind of growth that they should have and could have because we're the ones that caused the environmental problems.

We clear-cut everything. And now we're telling them, no, everybody slow up. But I guess what I'm saying is I think there are positive answers to the dilemmas that exist without worrying about whether or not China is going to rule the world.


ZAKARIA: President Biden has taken the unusual step of urging Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to walk back his controversial judicial overhaul. Has Bibi done enough to get an invitation to the White House? I will ask the president.



ZAKARIA: Late last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that he had been invited to visit China. That invitation underscores the absence of a similar one from the United States. In March, after sharp rare criticism of Netanyahu, for his proposed judicial overhaul, the U.S. president Joe Biden said that the prime minister would not receive a White House invitation in the near term. Months later, he has shown no sign of relenting.

So where do matters between the two leaders and their countries stand? I'm back with Joe Biden.


ZAKARIA: Mr. President, what will it take for Bibi Netanyahu to get an invitation to the White House?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all the Israeli president is going to be coming, we have other contacts. I've been, I think it is fair to say, an unyielding supporter of Israel for over -- I've only been around a couple of years, but for as long as I've been around. And Bibi, I think is trying to work through how he could work through his existing problems in terms of his coalition. He has -- I'm one of those that believes Israel is almost a security risk for a two-state solution.

I think it's a mistake to think that as some members of his cabinet and this is one of the most extremist members of cabinets that I've seen. I go all the way back to Golda Meir and, you know, not that she was extreme but I go back to that era. I think that the fact that the Palestinian Authority has lost its credibility, not necessarily because of what Israel has done, just because it is just lost its credibility, number one.

And number two, created a vacuum for extremism among the Palestinians. They are -- there are some very extreme elements. So it's not all Israel now in the West Bank, all Israel's problem. But they are a part of the problem. And particularly those individuals in the cabinet who say, they have no right -- we could settle anywhere we want, they have to right to be here, et cetera. And I think we -- we're talking with them regularly, trying to tamp down what is going on and hopefully Bibi will continue to move toward moderation and changing the (INAUDIBLE).

ZAKARIA: You've had tough words about Saudi Arabia from the start about the Khashoggi killing and things like that. You talked about needing a kind of new relationship. They've been pretty unyielding when you've asked them to pump more oil. They've slashed oil recently. Now Saudi Arabia wants a defense treaty from the United States promising that you will protect them and they want civilian nuclear capacity which again the U.S. would have to provide. And in return, they would recognize Israel. Are you going to do it?

THE PRESIDENT: We're a long way from there. We've got a lot to talk about. For example, that trip I went, which was criticized for my going, a number of things have happened on that trip. On that trip I was able to negotiate over flights so Israeli could know -- Israeli aircraft could now over fly Saudi Arabia, number one. Number two, the price of oil is actually down, not up, and it's not because they have done one thing or the other. But the world is changing, our policies relative to renewables are real.


THE PRESIDENT: Number three, we found ourselves in a circumstance where the war if Yemen is essentially for a year now been -- it's ended -- peace is being kept. So, we're making progress in the region. And it depends upon the conduct and what is asked of us for them to recognize Israel. Quite frankly -- I don't think they have much of a problem with Israel, quite frankly. And whether or not we would provide a means by which they could have civilian nuclear power and/or be a guarantor of their security, that is -- I think that is a little way off.

ZAKARIA: Finally, Mr. President, you've often said when people ask you about your age, just watch me. And I think a lot of people do watch you and are impressed and they think you've been a great president. You've brought the economy back. You've restored relations with the world. But many of these people do say and these are hardened supporters of yours, the next thing he should do is step aside and let another generation of Democrats take the baton. Why are they wrong?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just -- they're not right or wrong. It is -- look, to use the phrase again, I think we're at an inflection point. I think the world is changing and I think I -- there is one thing that comes with age, if you're being honest about it your whole life and that is some wisdom. I think we're on the cusp of being able to make significant positive changes in the world. Really honest to God do.

You've seen what we've done in Europe. Europe is more united than it has ever been since World War II -- end of World War II. You've seen what we've been able to do in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. We've united that part of the world including the 50 --basically 50 island nations that are participating, who will be here by the way shortly.

I think we're putting the world together in a way that is going to make things significantly -- how can I say it -- more secure for people. We're uniting democracies -- have a possibility of uniting democracies in a way that hadn't happened ever. And, so, I think that whether it is the far east, whether it is NATO, whether it is Europe, whether it is what is going on in Africa, I think we have enormous opportunities. And I think I just want to finish the job. And I think we can do that in the next six years.

ZAKARIA: Mr. President, it has been an honor. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks.


ZAKARIA: I want to thank President Biden for joining me. Next on GPS, my take. Some Republican candidates want to wage war on Mexico's drug cartels. I will explain why this is a terrible idea.

Joseph R. Biden, Interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN's "Global Public Square" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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