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.
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 the 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 away. 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.