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White House defends gaffe-prone Biden

WASHINGTON — As Vice President Joe Biden headed to Los Angeles on Monday to meet with the mayor and Democratic donors, the White House was still mopping up the diplomatic mess he caused last week.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest tried Monday to distance President Barack Obama from Biden's blunt and damning description of the role three U.S. allies played in the rise of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, Biden said Thursday, have sent weapons and money to the group and other extremist militias as part of a proxy war against President Bashar Assad of Syria.

Without disputing the statement, Earnest focused on more recent developments. Those nations, he said, have partnered with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.

"There is no doubt that Turkey and other countries in the region understand the threat that ISIL poses to the region and to these individual countries. And that is why the United States, under the president's leadership, has had success in building broad international support for the actions that we've taken against ISIL," he said.

Biden's comments, made during a question-and-answer session after a speech at Harvard Business School, caused outrage overseas and posed a diplomatic dilemma for a White House that is trying to hold together a coalition of Arab nations in its campaign against the militant group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded an apology. The United Arab Emirates reportedly sought a formal clarification of Biden's comments.

Biden tried to tamp down the uproar over the weekend with apologetic phone calls.