Joe Biden once told Vladimir Putin he didn't "have a soul," an accusation the Russian leader reportedly responded to with a smile.
The vice president revealed the odd anecdote to The New Yorker magazine
, which published a profile of him this week.
Biden said he was on a 2011 trip to visit then-Prime Minister Putin at the Kremlin when the conversation transpired.
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"I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, 'It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!' And he laughed," said Biden.
"As I turned, I was this close to him," he continued, indicating with his hand that they were face to face. "I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.'"
Putin didn't balk, however. "[H]e looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.'"
The New Yorker interviewer was initially surprised by the tale, suspecting it was made up, but Biden said it was "absolutely, positively" true. "This is who this guy is!" he told the interviewer.
The short story is illustrative, the interviewer points out, of Biden's overall communication style, which is "a bit like a spigot that you can turn on and can’t turn off," according to one British official interviewed for the piece. Biden himself might not disagree, and emphasized that when it comes to diplomacy and foreign relations, personality is a huge factor.
The vice president's approach, dubbed "the full Biden" — perhaps after "The Full Monty" — is characterized by a warm, energetic demeanor, and a tendency to talk with his face so close that "he occasionally bumps his forehead into you mid-chat."
According to the article, Biden's particular savior faire "plays better around the Mediterranean and in Latin America than in, say, England and Germany," and is apparently a big hit in Israel. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, for one, said he was awed by Biden when he worked the phone, saying he couldn't distinguish whether the vice president was talking to a world leader or a political party back in Delaware.
ABC News contrasted
Biden's encounter with Putin with that of George W. Bush, who more than a decade earlier saw something very different.
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue," Bush said after their meeting. "I was able to get a sense of his soul. He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship."
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