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“The Letter Is Common Sense”: Rep. Ro Khanna Defends Progressives’ Push for Diplomacy with Russia

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Why did members of the House Progressive Caucus retract a letter to President Biden that called for diplomatic engagement with Russia to end the war in Ukraine? We speak with Congressmember Ro Khanna of California, one of the signatories, who says he continues to stand by the letter despite the decision to withdraw it. “This letter simply affirms that while we stand with Ukraine, we also have those diplomatic channels,” says Khanna, who adds that President Biden and senior military figures have expressed similar sentiments about the need for diplomacy.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, I also want to ask you about the letter you signed with 29 other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus urging the Biden administration to pursue direct negotiations with Russia for a ceasefire in Ukraine, while continuing to arm the Ukrainian military. The letter stated in part, “We urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire. This is consistent with your recognition that ’there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement here,’ and your concern that Vladimir Putin ’doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.’” After facing a backlash, Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal withdrew the letter a day later. Did you agree with her decision? Do you support the demands of this letter for negotiations?

REP. RO KHANNA: I stand by the letter, Amy. I think the letter is common sense. It’s only in the Washington Beltway that diplomacy is somehow considered a scarlet letter. I have supported Ukraine. I will continue to support and stand with Ukraine in terms of the aid and the military they need to defend their sovereignty. I have been very clear that Putin’s war is illegal, brutal, unprovoked. But we have to also look at the facts on the ground. Putin is engaged in barbarism. He is striking electricity units across Ukraine. He has 300,000 troops there; they can mobilize to 3 million. And there is the risk of nuclear war.

This president has said, responsibly, that while we support Ukraine, we need to do everything possible to deescalate the conflict, to make sure that we aren’t escalating to nuclear war, and to engage in negotiated conversations to prevent nuclear war, accidental war, with the Russian counterparts. And the secretary of defense actually has done that. This letter simply affirms that while we stand with Ukraine, we also have those diplomatic channels. I didn’t see anything, frankly, different than the thoughtful voices that the president has relied on and also things that Admiral Mullen has said, that Joseph Dunford has said, that, frankly, President Obama in his Pod Save America broadcast said.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have other countries, U.S. allies, like France, for example, and Germany, that are continuing to speak with Putin all through this. The significance of the U.S. taking a very strong stand on this? I mean, you have President Biden saying he would speak with Putin about Brittney Griner, which is very important, that she should be freed. But what about ending this war?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, look, I think that the facts on the ground show that, courageously, Ukraine is taking back territory, and we want to stand with them. We want to make sure that we recognize their courage and what they have done. But the question is: How do we both make sure that we don’t escalate the conflict? And at the right time, how do we have a just peace and a negotiated settlement that recognizes Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty? That, like most wars, is going to require conversation. We can debate when the appropriate time is, and we should make sure that the Ukrainians are consulted and nothing is done that they do not want, but it is in the United States’ interest and in the world’s interest for the administration, as they are, to be engaged in diplomatic conversation with the Russians. And that’s all the letter said. It was actually affirming in many ways what the president has been doing in pushing back against some of the less prudent voices in the Beltway.

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