President Joe Biden will make his first major public foray on to the global stage as president on Friday, attending a G-7 summit and addressing the Munich Security Council.
Biden is expected to discuss the global response to COVID-19, stress coordination in responding to Russia and China, and the Iran nuclear deal during the two events.
Biden is also expected to speak about the two-decades war in Afghanistan, where he faces a May 1 deadline to remove the remaining 2,500 US troops under a negotiated agreement with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration. Transnational challenges ranging from nuclear proliferation to climate change and cybersecurity will also be on the agenda.
In a wider sense, the Democratic president, sworn in less than a month ago, will use the “virtual visit” to Europe to try to re-establish the US as a multilateral team player after four years of divisive “America first” policies pursued by Trump, a senior administration official told reporters in a preview of the event.
At the G7 summit, which will include the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan, Biden will pledge $4bn in support of the global coronavirus vaccination effort, COVAX, which Trump had refused to support.
He will also hail the US’s return to the Paris Agreement on climate, with the US officially re-entering the accord on Friday, after Trump triggered its withdrawal in 2017, and the prospect of a nearly $2 trillion spending measure that could bolster both the US and global economies.
Biden will also pressure countries to invest more and to make good on their commitments to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on Wednesday, decried the current global vaccine distribution as “wildly unfair”.
Later on Friday morning, Biden will address an online session of the Munich Security Conference, which draws top global leaders and where several years ago as a private citizen he reassured participants rattled by the Trump presidency that “this, too, shall pass” and “we will be back”.
Biden will seek to underscore that democracies, not autocracies, offer the best path forward for the world, after the January 6 siege of the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters made clear that democracy was fragile, the official said.
“He will make a strong, confident case that democracy is the best model for meeting the challenges of our time,” the official said. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We need to fight for it.”
Russia, China, Iran
The US president is also expected to speak specifically about “malign” and concerted action he believes Russia has taken to destabilise and undermine democracy in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and will call on allies to stand firm with Washington, the official said.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied such allegations.
Regarding China, the world’s second-largest economy, Biden will urge democracies to work together to push back against practices and policies of the Chinese government that he will describe as “economically abusive and … counter to our values.”
The Biden White House is reviewing China policy across an array of fronts, including its military buildup and trade policies, its actions in Hong Kong, treatment of minority Uighurs in Xinjiang and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“He will make clear in the speech that he’s not looking for confrontation, he’s not looking for a new Cold War, but he’s expecting stiff competition and he welcomes it,” the official said.
Biden is also set to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, after his administration said on Thursday it would be open to having an “informal meeting” with Tehran and the other parties to the agreement.
Trump withdrew from the deal – which saw Iran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief – in 2018 and imposed a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Tehran.
Biden has made returning to the deal a priority, but both Iran and the US have said it is the other country’s responsibility to make the first move in returning to compliance.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency this week that it would suspend on February 23 voluntary implementation next week of a provision in the 2015 deal that allowed UN nuclear monitors to conduct inspections of undeclared sites in Iran at short notice unless the US rolled back sanctions.