Joe Biden sought out Russian president Vladimir Putin before the 2003 invasion of Iraq to propose a deal in which Russia would be given the oil profits from the war if they entered alongside the United States.
Biden told of his attempt at “creative diplomacy” during a July 2004 event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Biden, then the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined on stage by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for a discussion on foreign policy in the upcoming presidential election.
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One of Biden’s main criticisms of former President George W. Bush during the event was his failure to unite “nations of the world in a common cause” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among the nations Biden had an engagement plan for was Putin’s Russia.
Biden said during the event that he, along with a Republican senator he chose not to name, asked for a meeting with Putin and proposed a deal where all proceeds from seized Iraqi oil would initially go to cash-strapped Russia. Biden viewed it as an offer Putin wouldn’t be able to refuse and was disappointed the Bush administration didn’t consider it.
According to a Kennedy library transcript of the event, Biden said he approached Putin and asked him the following question: “What if, in fact, President Bush would agree that the first proceeds coming from Iraqi oil would pay off the roughly $12 billion owed by direct hard currency that the Russians needed?”
Biden says Putin’s response to him was initially dismissive, but that they ended up getting into the details.
“[Putin] said, ‘Oh, that’s not how I base my policy, but let’s talk about that,'” Biden said. “Then we went into some detail.”
Biden says he called the White House to relay his conversation with Putin, but much to his dismay, none of the details ever reached the president.
“I picked up the phone and called the administration,” Biden explained. “He was on his way to Crawford. I said, ‘You have a way here.’ This is a little bit of creative diplomacy. ‘You have a way. I can tell you,’ and we relayed in detail Putin’s responses to our inquiries. I later learned not a single word was mentioned.”
Biden indicated his belief that Putin would have taken the deal and joined the invasion of Iraq if the deal was presented to him by Bush.
“Imagine, just imagine, had in fact we worked out a little deal with the Russians,” Biden said, “that the proceeds that would win foreign debt was being paid down, that we would agree that the Russians would be first among equals, because they’re so starved.”
“Their entire budget is $30 billion a year. Pennsylvania’s is bigger. Their entire defense budget is less than $9 billion a year. Having $12 billion in hard currency and $32 billion in prospective contracts is a big deal to lose. No thinking about it.”
“Just imagine what we might have been able to do,” Biden concluded.
Neither Albright nor the event’s moderator, Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, addressed Biden’s plan to engage Russia on Iraq, according to the transcript.
Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq in the United Nations, threatening to use its veto power in the security council to block any resolution of force against the country. Documents also indicate that the Russians provided details of the U.S. military’s invasion plan to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Biden accused the Bush administration of dismissing his plan to buy Putin’s support with oil money due to its unwillingness to share the resources. He said the reason his plan wasn’t brought to the president’s attention was likely “because we thought this was going to go so easily and so well, this was going to be a—we didn’t go to war because of oil, but this was going to be a bonanza for American oil companies,” according to the transcript.
Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his proposal to Putin.
Putin was a growing concern on the world stage at the time of the discussion, and was referenced by Albright as someone she was “very worried about.”
“I actually am very worried about what is going on in Russia, because President Putin is recentralizing his government and trying to figure out, really, how to give Russia back its identity,” Albright said. “Those two things are not necessarily bad, but in the process of it, the democratic freedoms are being cut down, and journalists are being murdered.”
Biden’s record on the Iraq War, which he voted for, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks due to his false claim that he opposed the war “immediately from the moment it started.”
A recent review by CNN’s KFILE team found that Biden called for Americans to “unite” behind the war just days before the March 20, 2003, invasion, and continued to voice support in the months that followed. Months after the March 2003 invasion, for example, Biden said he stood by his 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq.
“Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force and I would vote that way again today,” Biden said during a July 2003 speech. “It was the right vote then and would be a correct vote today.”
In his remarks at the Kennedy Library, Biden said he had “an inordinately high regard for the men and women in the Bush administration.”
“They’re among the brightest, the most patriotic Americans that I have encountered in my almost 32 years as a United States senator, and I do not question their motives,” Biden said.
“Those proposing what we all are characterizing as a neoconservative view of American foreign policy, truly believe it’s the way to make this country safer, and they believe it’s the way to make the world safer, and they truly believe that if the power is used well, it will in fact mean that in the future we’re less likely to have to use military power,” he added.
His point of contention with the administration, he said, was the “opportunities it squandered” after 9/11 to unite the “nations of the world in a common cause.”
“Beyond our borders, this administration, I believe, squandered a historic opportunity to bring nations together against the forces of intolerance and destruction that had become a common cause of concern for every nation-state,” he said.
Biden has presented himself as a tough voice on Russia, recently boasting during a fundraiser that he told Putin he didn’t “have a soul.”
He also has said that Russian interference in our elections wouldn’t have happened on his watch, ignoring the fact that he was vice president when Russia attempted to interfere with the 2016 election.