Joe Biden will make his first big appearance on the global stage as president on Friday, offering Group of Seven allies and other foreign leaders a glimpse into his plans to dramatically reshape U.S. foreign policy even as he deals with a number of international crises that are coming to a head.
In advance of Biden’s virtual appearances at a G-7 meeting and the Munich Security Conference, the White House sought to underscore that the new administration will move quickly to reorient the U.S. away from Donald Trump’s “America First” mantra by announcing major reversals of Trump administration policies.
Biden was expected to use his address to the Munich conference to stress that the U.S. stands ready to rejoin talks about reentering the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration. The Biden administration announced Thursday its desire to reengage Iran, and it took action at the United Nations aimed at restoring policy to what it was before President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
Biden was also expected to address economic and national security challenges posed by Russia and China, as well as the two-decade war in Afghanistan, where he faces a May 1 deadline to remove the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops under a Trump administration negotiated peace agreement with the Taliban.
His message was to be girded by an underlying argument that democracies — not autocracies — are models of governance that can best meet the challenges of the moment, according to a senior administration official who previewed the president’s speech for reporters.
At the G-7, administration officials said, Biden was to focus on what lies ahead for the international community as it tries to extinguish the public health and economic crises created by the coronavirus pandemic. White House officials said Biden would announce at the G-7 that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, a program that Trump refused to support.
Both the G-7 and the annual security conference are being held virtually because of the pandemic.
Biden’s turn on the world stage comes as the U.S. on Friday officially rejoins the Paris climate agreement, the largest international effort to curb global warming. Trump announced in June 2017 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the landmark accord, arguing that it would undermine the American economy.
Biden announced the U.S. intention of rejoining the accord on the first day of his presidency, but he had to wait 30 days for the move to go into effect. He has said that he will bake considerations about climate change into every major domestic and foreign policy decision his administration faces.
His first foray into international summitry will inevitably be perceived by some as simply an attempted course correction from Trump’s agenda. The new president, however, has made clear that his domestic and foreign policy agenda won’t be merely an erasure of the Trump years.
“I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” Biden lamented earlier this week at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee.
Biden on the campaign trail vowed to reassert U.S. leadership in the international community, a role that Trump often shied away from while complaining that the U.S. was too frequently taken advantage of by freeloading allies.
To that end, the White House said Biden would be encouraging G-7 partners to make good on their pledges to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines, even as he reopens the U.S. spigot.
Trump had withdrawn the U.S. from WHO and refused to join more than 190 countries in the COVAX program. The Republican former president accused WHO of covering up China’s missteps in handling the virus at the start of the public health crisis that unraveled a strong U.S. economy.
It remains to be seen how G-7 allies will take Biden’s calls for greater international cooperation on vaccine distribution given that the U.S. refused to take part in the initiative under Trump and that there are growing calls for the Democrat’s administration to distribute some U.S.-manufactured vaccine supplies overseas.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in an interview Thursday with the Financial Times, called on the U.S. and European nations to allocate up to 5% of current vaccine supplies to developing countries — the kind of vaccine diplomacy that China and Russia have begun deploying.
And earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, noting 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations.
Biden, who announced last week that the U.S. will have enough supply of the vaccine by the end of July to inoculate 300 million people, remains focused for now on making sure every American is vaccinated, administration officials say.
Allies will also be listening closely to hear what Biden has to say about a looming crisis with Iran.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency this week that it would suspend voluntary implementation next week of a provision in the 2015 deal that allowed U.N. nuclear monitors to conduct inspections of undeclared sites in Iran at short notice unless the U.S. rolled back sanctions by Feb. 23.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday told his counterparts from France, Germany and the U.K. that the U.S. is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran in an attempt to reach an agreement on returning to full compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal, according to a joint statement by the three nations.
Trump withdrew the United States from the pact negotiated by the Obama administration and renewed sanctions against Tehran, a step that Biden as a candidate said was shortsighted and dangerous.
But the joint statement from Blinken and the other ministers made clear that the Biden administration continues to expect Iran to return to full compliance with the 2015 deal before the U.S. reengages. It also urged Iran to “consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”
Biden has participated in the Munich Security Conference several times as a senator, vice president and most recently as a private citizen.
When Biden last addressed the conference two years ago, he sought to assure allies shell-shocked by Trump’s “America First” policies that “this, too, shall pass.”
“We will be back,” Biden told attendees. “Don’t have any doubt about that.”
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