WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is appearing before the United Nations this week, eager to advocate for the world to act precipitously on coronavirus, climate change and human rights abuses. His advocacy for a greater global partnership comes at a time when allies are growing increasingly skeptical about the scale of the changes that US foreign policy has actually made since Donald Trump left the White House.
Biden plans to limit his time at the United Nations General Assembly due to coronavirus concerns. He is due to meet Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and address the assembly on Tuesday before moving the rest of the week’s diplomacy to virtual settings and Washington.
At a COVID-19 virtual summit it is hosting on Wednesday, leaders will be called on to step up vaccine sharing commitments, address global oxygen shortages and address other critical issues related to the pandemic .
The president also invited the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan, which are part of a Pacific alliance, to Washington and is expected to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the White House.
Through it all, Biden will be the subject of a quiet assessment from the allies: Has he kept his campaign promise to be a better partner than Trump?
Biden’s senior envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, offered a smooth response above all diplomacy: “We believe our priorities are not just US priorities, they are global priorities,” he said. she said on Friday.
But over the past few months, Biden has found himself at odds with his allies on a number of high-profile issues.
Differences were noted regarding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the pace of sharing the COVID-19 vaccine and international travel restrictions, and how best to respond to China’s military and economic measures. A violent French backlash has erupted in recent days after the United States and Britain announced they would help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden opened his presidency by declaring that “America is back” and committing to a more collaborative international approach.
At the same time, he focused on recalibrating national security priorities after 20 years marked by preoccupation with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and thwarting Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. He tried to argue that the United States and its democratic allies need to focus more on tackling the economic and security threats posed by China and Russia.
Biden faced resistance – and, at times, outright anger – from his allies when the White House made important global decisions with what some deemed insufficient.
France was furious over the submarine deal, which aimed to bolster Australia’s efforts to keep tabs on the Chinese military in the Pacific, but undermines a deal worth at least $ 66 billion dollars for a fleet of a dozen submarines built by a French contractor.
French President Emmanuel Macron recalled the French ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations in Paris. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Australia and the United States both betrayed France. Biden and Macron are expected to speak by phone in the coming days, a French government spokesperson said.
âIt was really a stab in the back,â said Le Drian. âIt sounds a lot like what Trump did. “
The Biden administration and Australian officials have said France is aware of their plans and the White House has vowed to “continue to engage in the coming days to resolve our differences.”
But Biden and his European allies have also been out of sync on other issues, including how quickly rich countries should share their stocks of coronavirus vaccines with poorer countries.
At first, Biden resisted calls to immediately begin donating 4% to 5% of stocks to developing countries. Instead, in June, the White House announced it was purchasing 500 million doses for distribution through a World Health Organization-backed initiative to share the vaccine with low- and middle-income countries around the world. Biden is expected to announce additional measures soon to help immunize the world.
Allies of the Group of Seven major industrial nations have shown varying levels of comfort with Biden’s calls to persuade other Democratic leaders to present a more unified front to compete economically with Beijing. When the leaders met this year in England, they agreed to work to compete with China. But there was less unity on how a contradictory public position should be taken by the group.
Canada, the UK and France have broadly supported Biden’s position, while Germany, Italy and the European Union have shown more reluctance.
Germany, which maintains close commercial ties with China, has been keen to avoid a situation in which Germany, or the European Union, could be forced to choose sides between China and the United States.
Biden clashed with EU leaders over his decision to meet the August 31 deadline for ending the US war in Afghanistan, which resulted in the departure of US and Western allies before all of their citizens could be evacuated of the Taliban regime.
Britain and other allies, many of whom followed US forces into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, had urged Biden to keep the US military at Kabul airport more long, but were ultimately repelled by the president.
Administration officials see this week’s engagements as an important time for the president to set his priorities and mobilize his support to deal with several crises with greater coordination.
It is also a period of political transition for some allies. Longtime German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to step down after elections are held in Germany later this month and Frenchman Macron is set to face his voters in April at a time when his political star has faded.
J. Stephen Morrison, an expert in global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, expressed concern that the breakdown in relations between the United States and France came at a time when world leaders are far from their global immunization goals and need to step up their efforts.
âWe need these countries to be able to come up around the kind of programâ¦ that the United States has put in place,â Morrison said of Biden’s planned vaccination campaign. “So, the French being absent or not terribly engaged, it is a setback.”
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