To world leaders who were alternately baffled and amused by former President Donald Trump – who once encountered mocking laughter from the United Nations crowd in the midst of his grand speech – Biden represented the hope of an era different in American foreign relations. He spent his first overseas trip in June declaring across Europe that “America is back”.
He continued this message during his first appearance in New York when he met UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“The strong partnership between the United States and the United Nations is based on common values and principles, and right now those ties are more important than ever. America is back and we believe in the United Nations and its values, ”Biden said.
The president is expected to advocate for “rallying allies, partners and institutions to face the major challenges of our time,” a senior administration official said. As in almost every aspect of its foreign policy, China will be prominent, and Biden will warn in his speech against the world’s shifting towards a new Cold War that divides the world into spheres of influence.
Yet the growing distrust of once-enthusiastic allies is not lost on the president or his aides.
“I think the point of view of the president, who has been on the world stage for 50 years, is that you still have to work on your relationships. This includes world leaders, ”said press secretary Jen Psaki. “He believes our relationship has continued over several decades, and every step he has taken since taking office was with the intention of rebuilding alliances and rebuilding the partnerships that have frayed over the past four years.” years. “
Psaki said that does not mean countries will always agree with each other, but argued that in the long run, global relations will be strengthened by Biden’s approach.
A highlight on the world stage
The annual appearance at the UN is one of the most high-profile occasions for any president to state his agenda abroad, although this year’s meeting has been reduced due to the pandemic. Biden will not participate in the usual flurry of withdrawal sessions in the halls of UN headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan and will return to the White House by Tuesday afternoon.
Officials view Biden’s speech and other events surrounding him – including a Covid summit on Wednesday and a Pacific leaders meeting on Friday – as a critical moment for the president to express his foreign policy vision and expose what he thinks should be the world’s priorities.
He arrived in New York shaken by setbacks in his quest to restore American leadership. France rants over a deal to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, which deprived Paris of a lucrative contract for conventional submarines and, according to French officials, came as a total surprise to the older one. ally of the United States. Biden has asked to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron soon to lower the temperature.
The uncertainty surrounding Biden’s national agenda will have ramifications for his plans to harass the global climate change initiative. Democrats remain divided over the massive spending bill that represents the bulk of Biden’s plan to cut carbon emissions.
And his decision to end the war in Afghanistan, which resulted in a disorderly evacuation, created waves of refugees in Europe and the United States and left some allies frustrated with the way the exit was planned. Biden’s vows to continue effective counterterrorism efforts were undermined by the revelation last week that a US drone strike in the final days of the war killed 10 civilians instead of ISIS-K targets .
Still, Biden won’t hesitate to make his decision to end America’s longest war during his speech, according to senior administration officials. Instead, he’ll put the end of the war at the center of his message, arguing that it was a move necessary to propel the world into a new, more cooperative era to face today’s challenges.
“Essentially, the president will get the message across that the end of the war in Afghanistan closed the war-focused chapter and opened a chapter focused on determined, effective and intensive US diplomacy,” a senior administration official said. preview of the speech.
Biden aims to show a shift in priorities
Downplaying emerging divisions with foreign allies, the White House said Biden’s multiple summits this week – on Covid-19, climate change and the Indo-Pacific partnership – were evidence of a multilateral approach which contrasts directly with the approach of the previous administration.
And the announcement on Monday that the United States would ease travel restrictions on all fully vaccinated foreign visitors, replacing a patchwork of bans that had started to stir up fury in Europe, was applauded in foreign capitals.
The travel ban was expected to be a major point of contention during a Tuesday afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will make his first visit to Biden’s White House.
Biden also plans to convene a virtual Covid-19 summit on Wednesday, calling on leaders in developed countries to step up vaccine-sharing commitments and increase the global supply of oxygen. And he will end the week by hosting his first in-person summit of QUAD nations – Japan, Australia and India – to discuss the pandemic and security in Asia.
The summit underscores Biden’s broader goal of diverting attention from places like Afghanistan and onto the threat from China, whose military and economic movements have caused a deterioration in ties with the West.
Biden’s decision to partner with the UK and Australia on nuclear-powered submarines was a sign of his willingness to look beyond traditional alliances – such as with France – to better meet challenges. security in Asia.
Spitting with Paris surprises the White House
This approach was not well received in Paris, where officials accused the Biden administration of operating in secret to deprive France of important defense contracts. France’s overreaction surprised some in the White House, and one official said France’s behavior, including recalling its ambassador for consultations, was too dramatic a response to the split.
For now, there is a general belief that the dusting off will not permanently damage relations with France, but officials acknowledge that the feud remains in its infancy. Biden asked Macron to call to address the matter “directly”, an official said.
“We understand the French position,” the official said. “We don’t share their point of view on how it all developed. “
The underwater spat highlights larger differences between Biden’s approach to China and the views of some European leaders, who have sought a more conciliatory approach with a major trading partner. These divisions were exposed at this summer’s G7 summit, although the group eventually emerged with a collective statement berating China for its human rights violations.
In his speech on Tuesday, Biden will seek to stress that the United States is not seeking to come into conflict with China or its leader Xi Jinping, whom he spoke with by phone earlier this month.
“President Biden will communicate tomorrow that he does not believe in the idea of a new cold war with a world divided into blocks. He believes in vigorous, intensive and principled competition that does not tip into conflict, ”the official said.