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Biden defends 'difficult decision' to give Ukraine cluster bombs amid congressional pushback

"It took me a while to be convinced to do it," the president said of the controversial decision, which he described as a temporary measure.
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President Joe Biden defended what he called his "very difficult decision" to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine in an interview that aired Sunday, saying the war-torn country "needed" the controversial weapons to fight off invading Russian troops.

"It took me a while to be convinced to do it. But the main thing is, they either have the weapons to stop the Russians now from their — keep them from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas — or they don’t. And I think they needed them," Biden said in an interview on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

The administration's announcement Friday that it would be sending cluster munitions to Ukraine in a U.S. military aid package was met with pushback from some of Biden's fellow Democrats, who noted the surface-to-surface warheads, which disperse small munitions or bombs over wide areas, can explode after battle and sometimes injure or kill innocent people.

The weapons have been banned in more than 100 countries, and the White House suggested last year that Russia's use of the weapons in Ukraine was a potential war crime.

Biden said the move was necessary now because the Ukrainian military is low on ammunition, emphasizing that it's a temporary measure.

"The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition, the ammunition that they used to call them 155-millimeter weapons. This is a— this is a war relating to munitions, and they’re running out of those— that ammunition, and we’re low on it. And so what I finally did, took the recommendation of the Defense Department, to not permanently, but to allow for [their use] in this transition period," he said in the interview, conducted Friday.

Biden said the bombs would not be used in civilian areas.

President Joe Biden at the White House on July 7, 2023.
President Joe Biden at the White House last week.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In an interview with ABC's "This Week," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said the weapons were crucial to his country's defense. "We need it to win this war," Yermak said.

While some Republicans have criticized Biden for sending the weapons, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said it was the right thing to do.

"Russia is dropping with impunity cluster bombs in Ukraine, the country of Ukraine, right now," McCaul said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

"All the Ukrainians and Zelenskyy are asking for is to give them the same weapons the Russians have to use in their own country against Russians who are in their own country. They’re — they do not want these to be used in Russia. They want these as self-defense to use against Russians in their own country of Ukraine. I don’t see anything wrong with that," McCaul said.

"These weapons would be a game changer. They are highly effective, and particularly hitting flanks of troops inside of Ukraine. They would be a game changer in the counteroffensive," he added.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., however, told CNN that "cluster bombs should never be used. That's crossing a line."

Lee urged Biden to reconsider his decision "because they are very dangerous bombs." Asked if she thought it could be a war crime if the administration did not change its position, Lee said, "What I think is we would risk losing our moral leadership."