To quote our 46th president — come on, man. We knew the White House would eventually have to retreat from Joe Biden’s answer on Iran and sanctions in his Super Bowl interview, but not by making it sound as though Biden couldn’t keep up with Norah O’Donnell. Rather than try to spin Biden’s answer as no real change from his previous positions, Jen Psaki instead accused O’Donnell of putting words in Biden’s mouth, and insinuated that Biden couldn’t fend for himself in a national interview.
Talk about a real confidence builder…
Biden nodded in @NorahODonnell interview when asked if Iran stopping uranium enrichment was necessary for negotiations, but Psaki says there's no change
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 8, 2021
Q: President Biden said that the US would not lift sanctions first, and that Iran would have to stop enriching uranium before negotiations could resume. But since then, the supreme leader has said that the US has to act first and roll back sanctions in order to re-engage. Is this a non-negotiable point for President Biden, and if so, how do you get out of this stalemate?
PSAKI: Well, just to be very clear, the president never said that exactly. It was stated by the interviewer, who — Norah O’Donnell, who did the interview — and he didn’t respond to the question. So the president’s view, position, is that if Iran comes back into full —
Q: [crosstalk] He nodded.
PSAKI: I think if we were announcing a major policy change, we would do it in a different way than a slight head nod. But overall, his position remains exactly what it has been, which is that if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same, and use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.
Actually, Biden did say that, “exactly.” When O’Donnell asked him about lifting sanctions, Biden gave her an explicit “no,” which is precisely what the reporter in the briefing cited in her question to Psaki. The head bob came on her confirming follow-up:
“Will the U.S. lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?” O’Donnell asked.
“No,” Mr. Biden responded.
“They have to stop enriching uranium first?” O’Donnell asked.
Mr. Biden nodded affirmatively.
This was not a tough or complicated question. If Biden couldn’t express disagreement in the exchange, it’s not because O’Donnell attempted some verbal sleight-of-hand or reportorial voodoo. This was about as straightforward and simple as it gets. If he got it wrong, then the White House might want to argue for more nuance, but not that the Leader of the Free World got lost somewhere between stop and enriching.
At some point, Biden might want to circle back on his decision to put Psaki in charge of these pressers.