US lawmakers withdraw letter calling for Ukraine war diplomacy

Head of the progressive bloc in US Congress says the letter urging talks with Russia to end the war was released ‘without vetting’.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of progressive caucus, says the letter is a 'distraction at this time' [File: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Washington, DC – Left-wing US lawmakers have withdrawn a letter that called on President Joe Biden to engage in “vigorous” diplomacy to end the war between Russia and Ukraine, after facing a firestorm of criticism and accusations of appeasing Moscow.

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued a statement on Tuesday saying the letter had been drafted months ago and released by staff earlier this week “without vetting”.

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

“The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time and we withdraw the letter.”

The United States congresswoman had led Monday’s letter, which was signed by 30 progressive lawmakers who urged the Biden administration to pursue “all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement”.

That was met with immediate, bipartisan pushback, with critics arguing that the letter compromised a consensus in Washington for supporting Kyiv and ran afoul of the White House’s position of letting Ukrainians negotiate for themselves.

“We urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority,” Monday’s letter read.

Signatories to the statement included prominent House progressives Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, among others.

US Congress has overwhelming approved tens of billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine since Russia launched a full-scale invasion in February.

While some Republicans have criticised the cost of ongoing support for Ukraine, Democrats have largely been unanimous in backing continued assistance. But progressives have faced pressure from a segment of their base that opposes foreign intervention to question Biden’s strategy.

Since Russia launched the invasion eight months ago, its military campaign has been mired by setbacks. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces — backed by US weaponry — recaptured large swaths of territory in a counteroffensive in the east of the country.

Monday’s congressional letter praised Biden’s approach to Ukraine but stressed that US legislators who are signing the proverbial cheques to Ukraine can have a say in the war effort.

“We agree with the Administration’s perspective that it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions, and with the principle you have enunciated that there should be ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine’,” it said.

“But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict, we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.”

The assertion was widely rebuked by many foreign policy commentators, Democratic Party-aligned activists and media figures, as well as some of the progressives’ fellow Democrats.

“The way to end a war? Win it quickly,” Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego wrote on Twitter in response to the letter. “How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia.”

Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton also slammed the letter, saying that making concessions to Moscow on behalf of Kyiv would “only embolden” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“As a sovereign nation, only Ukraine can dictate the terms on which it will consider negotiating an end to Russia’s unlawful & unprovoked invasion,” wrote Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria.

“I will continue to support our commitment & assistance to the people of Ukraine as they fight to expel every last Russian invader.”

But former independent Congressman Justin Amash defended the call for diplomacy, noting that Washington has inserted itself in the conflict by providing weapons to Kyiv.

“The Biden administration’s position that Ukraine alone decides whether to negotiate with Russia is absurd,” Amash wrote in a tweet. “The moment the US began providing weapons and support in a hot war is the moment the president owed a duty to the American people to engage directly to facilitate peace.”

Source: Al Jazeera