US President Joe Biden has criticised over-reliance on military power and promised to pursue global diplomacy to tackle international issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and cyber threats.
In his first speech as US president at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Biden called for cooperation in the “global community” to address what he called “urgent and looming crises” across the world.
In calling for multilateralism, Biden drew a contrast with his predecessor Donald Trump – who withdrew the US from several UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation and UN Human Rights Council – without naming him.
“We’re back at the table in international forums, especially the United Nations, to focus attention and to spur global action on shared challenges,” Biden said.
With the end of Washington’s military involvement in Afghanistan, Biden said the US will focus its energy and commitment to the future.
“I stand here today for the first time in 20 years with the United States not at war,” he said.
While stressing that the US will defend itself by force if needed, Biden said the military power should be a tool of “last resort”, adding that some of the biggest problems facing the world cannot be solved with weapons.
“Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants,” the US president told the General Assembly. “To fight this pandemic, we need a collective act of science and political will. We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments to save lives around the world.”
Biden called for creating a “new mechanism” to fund global health security. He also pledged to work with Congress to double Washington’s contributions to an international fund to tackle climate crises in developing nations.
US ‘ready to work with any nation’
In an apparent message to China, Biden said Washington is not seeking a new Cold War with its strategic competitors.
“The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreement in other areas,” He said.
“We’ll all suffer the consequences of our failure if we do not come together to address the urgent threats like COVID-19, climate change or enduring threats like nuclear proliferation,” Biden added.
The US drew China’s ire earlier last week when it announced a security partnership with the UK and Australia that will see Washington and London help the Australian military acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Chinese officials called the pact “extremely irresponsible”, accusing the US and its allies of undermining international non-proliferation efforts.
US, UK and Australian leaders have stressed that the submarines will be powered by nuclear power, not carrying nuclear weapons. Australia is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Biden calls for reviving Iran deal
On Tuesday, Biden said the US “remains committed” to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, calling for reviving the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Tehran.
The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saw Iran curb its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.
Trump nixed the deal in 2018. Six rounds of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna earlier this year failed to restore the pact.
Negotiations have been on ice since June with the election of conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
“We’re working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek a return to the JCPOA,” Biden said, referring to the original signatories of the agreement – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. “We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same.”
Raisi, in a recorded message to the UN, said he supported a resumption of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, if it would lead to the US removing sanctions it has imposed on the Iranian economy since 2018.
Biden urged using diplomacy, not violence, to resolve tensions in the Middle East, reasserting his administration’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question, and our support for an independent, Jewish state is unequivocal,” Biden said.
“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.”
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ruled out allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state under his government before a meeting with Biden at the White House.