G7 summit: Biden, Johnson to reaffirm bond but tensions simmer

On the eve of the G7 summit, the US leader is expected to warn his UK counterpart over Brexit-related frictions in Northern Ireland.

Biden, right, is concerned that UK-EU tensions could undermine the Good Friday Agreement [EPA]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United States President Joe Biden are expected to reaffirm the relationship between their two countries on the eve of the G7 summit, despite warnings from Washington over simmering Brexit tensions.

The pair are set to agree on an “Atlantic Charter” when they meet in Cornwall, southwestern England, on Thursday for their first face-to-face talks since Biden assumed office in January.

The agreement will be modelled on the historic 1941 joint statement made by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill and then-President Franklin D Roosevelt which set out Washington and London’s vision for a new world order after World War II.

Johnson and Biden will also reportedly establish a task force to look at resuming UK-US travel, which has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and discuss how to provide vaccines to the world’s poorer nations.

But the talks may be dimmed when Biden, as expected, warns Johnson – one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign – over frictions in Northern Ireland unleashed by the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

The US leader is concerned that Johnson’s heated disagreements with the bloc over the Brexit deal’s so-called Northern Ireland protocol may undermine a 1998 US-brokered peace deal – the Good Friday Agreement – that ended 30 years of bloodshed in the region.

“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One.

“Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States.”

Biden seeks to ‘bind allies close’

Biden’s UK visit marks his first trip abroad since becoming president.

After meeting Johnson, he will attend the G7 summit in Cornwall from Friday to Sunday, featuring the UK prime minister and the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

Biden will then attend a NATO summit on Monday, a US-EU summit on Tuesday and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the following day.

He will try to use the trip to burnish his multilateral credentials after the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency, which left many US allies in Europe and Asia bewildered and some alienated.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Cornwall, said Biden’s idea was to “bind his allies close” after Trump’s years in office.

“We’re going to see that with the partners of the G7 first, then with the NATO alliance which certainly took a bruising after Trump … then with the EU,” Bays said.

Biden wants to “get all those allies on the same page with a range of different world issues” including COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, climate change and how to deal with rival powers such as China and Russia, he added.

Since the G7 last met two years ago, COVID-19 has killed more than 3.7 million people worldwide and decimated economies hit by stringent lockdowns and mass layoffs.

COVID probe

As criticism grows over a WHO study in January and February into the origins of the coronavirus, the US president will also encourage G7 leaders to call for a second WHO probe, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing a leaked draft communique.

Hours after that report, EU leaders themselves called for a new, unfettered study into the origins of COVID-19, which was first identified in central China in late 2019.

“Investigators need complete access to whatever is necessary to really find the source of this pandemic,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, echoed von der Leyen’s call.

“The world has the right to know exactly what happened in order to be able to learn the lessons,” he said.

But EU diplomats have said the EU’s support for a new study is mostly symbolic, as the bloc would not be directly involved.

Last month, the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva said the original WHO report was “insufficient and inconclusive”, calling for a second inquiry to be conducted, including in China.

Biden in May said the US intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.

The WHO report said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies