(CNSNews.com) – As Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Washington’s ambassador to NATO on Sunday continued the administration’s damage-control effort after President Biden’s comment that President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” a senior Senate Republican urged the president to “stay on script.”
“I think most people who don’t deal in the lane of foreign relations don’t realize that those nine words that he uttered were – would cause the kind of eruption that they did,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“But any time you say – or even, as he did, suggest – that the policy was regime change, it’s going to cause a huge problem.”
The “nine words” Biden uttered at the end of a speech in Warsaw on Saturday evening were, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Less than an hour after the speech ended, an unnamed White House official issued a brief statement via the accompanying press pool: “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
Biden then flew out of Warsaw and returned to Washington via a fuel stop in England. En route a series of tweets posted on his official Twitter feed called Putin an “autocrat” and a “dictator bent on rebuilding an empire,” slammed as an obscene and cynical lie his claim to be “denazifying” Ukraine, and accused Russia of employing “brutal tactics” in its war against Ukraine.
Risch said the administration has done everything that it can, not to escalate the conflict.
“There’s not a whole lot more you can do to escalate than to call for regime change,” he commented.
“Please Mr. President, stay on script.”
In Jerusalem, Blinken was asked about Biden’s provocative comment, and spelled out the administration’s position.
‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” he said.
“As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change, in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter,” Blinken said. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”
The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, suggested Biden’s remark had been a spontaneous response to what he had seen and heard earlier on Saturday, as he met with Ukrainian refugees sheltering at a stadium in the Polish capital.
“In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“But, no, as you have heard from Secretary Blinken and others, the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop.”
“Having said what you said, listening to the president, he sounded pretty unambiguous: ‘This man cannot remain in power,’” said Bash.
“Are you concerned that, by walking back the president’s comments, you and other administration officials may be undermining him on the world stage at a really critical moment?”
Smith countered that the trip had gone well, calling it “remarkable” and “historic,” and describing Biden’s speech as “completely pitch-perfect.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed aside Biden’s comment that Putin “cannot remain in power.”
“That’s not for Biden to decide,” he told Reuters. “The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
Peskov gave a firmer response to another remark made by the president in Warsaw on Saturday. After interactions with Ukrainian refugees who have fled their war-torn country, Biden was asked for his reaction.
“You’re dealing every day with Vladimir Putin. I mean, look at what he’s done to these people,” a reporter said. “What does it make you think?”
“He’s a butcher,” replied the president. “That’s what it makes me think.”
Peskov said “a state leader should control his temper” and warned that Biden’s “personal insults” directed at Putin would “narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current administration,” TASS reported.
Earlier this month Biden called Putin “a war criminal,” and referred to the Russian president, without naming him, as “a murderous dictator, a pure thug, who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.”
Asked about Biden’s latest remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron told French television that he would not personally “use this type of wording.”
“I think we must keep to the facts, and do everything to not escalate things,” he said. “I wouldn’t use this type of wording, because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin. What do we want to do collectively? We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine.”
“We should not escalate things, neither with words nor actions,” added Macron, who is running for a second term in next month’s presidential election.