White House tries to back off from Biden comments on militant group
(MCT) — As Vice President Joe Biden headed to Los Angeles on Monday to
meet with the mayor and Democratic donors, the White House was still
mopping up the diplomatic mess he caused last week.
spokesman Josh Earnest tried Monday to distance President Barack Obama
from Biden’s blunt and damning description of the role three U.S. allies
played in the rise of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Saudi
Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, Biden said Thursday, have
sent weapons and money to the group and other extremist militias as part
of a proxy war against President Bashar Assad of Syria.
disputing the statement, Earnest focused on more recent developments.
Those nations, Earnest said, have partnered with the U.S. in the fight
against Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.
“There is no
doubt that Turkey and other countries in the region understand the
threat that ISIL poses to the region and to these individual countries.
And that is why the United States, under the president’s leadership, has
had success in building broad international support for the actions
that we’ve taken against ISIL,” he said.
Biden’s comments, made
during a question-and-answer session after a speech at Harvard Business
School, caused outrage overseas and posed an ugly diplomatic dilemma for
a White House that is trying to hold together a coalition of Arab
nations in its campaign against the militant group.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded an apology and told reporters
Biden that “will be history for me” if reports of his comments were
true. Biden also said Erdogan had privately admitted that he had made a
mistake in supporting the group, something Erdogan said “never
The United Arab Emirates reportedly sought a formal clarification of Biden’s comment.
vice president tried to tamp down the uproar this weekend with
apologetic phone calls. He called Erdogan on Saturday and “apologized
for any implication that Turkey or other allies and partners in the
region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or
other violent extremists in Syria,” according to a statement released by
On Sunday, he called Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan,
crown prince of Abu Dhabi, also to clarify, the White House said. Biden
noted the “UAE’s strong steps in countering extremist messaging and
financing and expressed gratitude for their participation in ongoing
military operations against ISIL,” the statement said.
House did not comment Monday on whether Biden also had called or planned
to call Saudi Arabia. Earnest dodged questions about whether Biden’s
comments accurately described the affect those nations’ policies had on
the rise of extremism in the region, before they joined the U.S.-led
In recent weeks, Biden has tallied up a long list of
verbal stumbles notable even for the famously loose-lipped politician.
Despite the recent spate of apologies, the White House defended the vice
“The fact of the matter is the vice president is
somebody who continues to be a core member of the president’s national
security team,” Earnest said.