Biden’s gaffes undercut Obama

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Mr. Simes said he had learned that a senior Russian official early Monday had relayed concerns to the White House about Mr. Biden’s comments.

The Kremlin was concerned that the United States may provide weapons to the pro-Western government in Georgia, Mr. Simes said. If that were to happen, Mr. Simes said the Russian official told the White House, “the U.S. government should not be surprised if Iran would get Russian weapons.”

The Kremlin also responded to Mr. Biden’s comment, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. The vice president asserted that “the world is changing before them and [the Russians are] clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, said he was “perplexed” by Mr. Biden’s comments after what the Russian government considered a successful visit by Mr. Obama at the beginning of July.

“The question is, who is shaping the U.S. foreign policy - the president or the respectable members of his team?” he said.

Mrs. Clinton was asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether Mr. Biden was saying that Washington has leverage over Moscow.

“I don’t think that’s at all what the vice president meant,” she said. “Every country faces challenges. We have our challenges; Russia has their challenges.”

Mr. Biden, who rose out of a working-class background to the Senate at age 29, has a reputation for being gaffe-prone. He added to this impression on Mr. Obama’s second day in office, poking fun on live television at Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s error in administering the oath of office to Mr. Obama the day before.

“My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts’,” Mr. Biden said, causing some in the audience to laugh but prompting a grimace from Mr. Obama, who stood next to him.

Some in the White House did not dispute that Mr. Biden’s recent comments have distracted from the president’s agenda, but they and others complained that some of the things said by the vice president would not be an issue if uttered by someone else.

“I think he gets a bum rap because he’s one of those people who, every time he speaks, someone’s got a preprinted article on how he made a gaffe,” said Faiz Shakir, research director at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Suzanne Maloney, a specialist on Iran at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Biden’s comments about the potential of an Israeli attack on Iran did not cause that much of a stir among those who follow U.S. policy toward Tehran closely.

“It was not really an indication of a change in U.S. policy. I don’t think it had a large effect, either positive or negative,” she said. “It was more excitement here than anything else.”

Mr. Biden said that it was Israel’s “sovereign right” to change course from its current policy of giving the United States time to try to and stop Iran from a nuclear weapon through engagement.

“We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they’re existentially threatened,” he said.

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