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Progressive Democrats withdraw letter urging Biden to talk with Putin


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A group of liberal Democrats has withdrawn a letter calling on the White House to pursue direct talks with Russia, saying it created the mistaken impression that they had aligned themselves with Republicans who have called sustained support for Ukraine into question.

“Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican leader [Kevin] McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” said Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The statement represents a dramatic U-turn for the progressive group just a day after it sent the letter to the White House, urging it to seriously explore “all possible avenues” to end the war, “including direct engagement with Russia”.

The administration of Joe Biden responded to the letter on Monday, saying that the decision of whether to engage with [Vladimir] Putin rested with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president. “[Zelenskyy] does not believe it is time now to sit down and have a negotiation with Mr Putin,” said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

The letter came after senior Republicans including McCarthy have warned in recent weeks it will be challenging for Congress to maintain full support for Ukraine should the GOP take control of the House of Representatives — a result predicted by polls.

Jayapal clarified late on Monday that the letter was not meant to convey a split with Biden, but on Tuesday announced she would withdraw it after several of the signatories distanced themselves from it.

Sara Jacobs, a Democratic congresswoman, on Tuesday said she signed the letter on June 30 but “a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today.”

Another lawmaker whose name appeared on the letter, Mark Pocan, said it was “written in July” and he had “no idea why it went out now. Bad timing.”

Jayapal said the letter was “drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting”.

She added that the letter had become “a distraction”, and said the group of liberal lawmakers believes the war will end with diplomacy after the Ukrainians make gains on the battlefield.

“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,” she said.

The comments and the letter have added to growing political pressure on Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections and a potentially difficult winter on the battlefield, when continued support for Ukrainian forces will be crucial.

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