After four years of a Trump administration that flaunted its foreign policy through a “America First” lens, President Joe Biden used his first address before a global audience Friday to declare that “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back.”
Biden virtually ticked through a daunting to-do list at the annual Munich Security Conference, salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, meeting China and Russia’s economic and security challenges, and repairing the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which he said would require close cooperation between the U.S. and its Western allies.
Biden mixed talk of a reinvigorated democratic alliance with a rebuke of his predecessor’s approach, a message warmly received by Western allies, without mentioning Donald Trump’s name once in his speech.
‘I know the transatlantic relationship has been strained and tested for the past few years,’ Biden said. “The United States is determined to reconnect with Europe, to consult with you, to restore our trusted leadership position.”
The president also attended a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven Industrialized Nations on Friday, where leaders succeeded in working on the campaign theme of Biden in their joint closing statement, vowing to “work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better.”
“Welcome back, America,” President Charles Michel of the European Council said, effectively summing up the mood of the Munich conference.
But while such happy talk conveyed the palpable sense of relief among allies at the full-throated dedication of Biden to mending frayed U.S.-Europe relations, over the last four years, much has changed in ways that create new challenges.
As the U.S. has rethought long-held national security and economic interests embedded in the transatlantic alliance, China has cemented its position as a fierce economic rival on the continent. Populism has spread across most of Europe. And other Western countries, as America stepped back from the world stage, have at times tried to fill the void left.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that there are still “complicated” differences between the U.S. and Europe. Europe sees China’s economic ambitions as less of an existential threat than the U.S. and has its own strategic and economic concerns that are also not always in sync with Russia’s Biden.
Still, Merkel, who had a strained relationship with Trump, did not hide her preference for Biden’s world view-informed American foreign policy.
“This year, things look a lot better for multilateralism than they did two years ago, and that has a lot to do with Joe Biden becoming President of the United States of America,” said Merkel. “His speech just now, but also the first announcements made by his administration, have convinced us that this is not just talk but action.”
Biden delivered his message to a global audience as his administration took action this week to undo core policies of the Trump administration.
He said the U.S. is prepared to rejoin negotiations on re-entering the Trump administration’s collapsed 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement. The administration of Biden announced its intention to re-engage Iran on Thursday, and it took steps at the United Nations to return policy to what it was before Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
Biden also talked about the two-decade war in Afghanistan, where he faces a deadline of May 1 to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. forces under a peace deal with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration. He also called for cooperation in addressing Russia and China’s economic and national security challenges and described cyberspace, artificial intelligence and biotechnology as highly competitive fields.
“Together, we must prepare for a long-term strategic competition with China,” Biden said.
The underlying point that democracies — not autocracies — are models of government that can better address the demands of the moment was based on his post. The President called on fellow world leaders to demonstrate together that “democracy can still deliver.”
Biden focused on what lies ahead for the international community as it strives to end the public health and economic crises generated by the coronavirus pandemic, administration officials said at the G-7. He declared that the U.S. would soon start releasing $4 billion for an international campaign to promote the procurement and distribution to developing nations of vaccines, an initiative that Trump declined to support.
When the U.S. formally rejoined the Paris climate agreement, the biggest international attempt to combat global warming, Biden’s turn on the world stage arrived. In June 2017, Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the historic deal, claiming that the treaty would weaken the American economy.
On the first day of his presidency, Biden declared the U.S. intention of rejoining, but he had to wait 30 days for the move to take effect. He has said he would integrate climate change issues into any significant domestic and foreign policy decision that his administration faces.
“This is an existential global crisis,” Biden said.
Biden has urged G-7 partners to make good on their promises to COVAX, a World Health Organization programme to enhance access to vaccines, even as the U.S. spigot reopens.
Trump withdrew the U.S. from the WHO and declined to join the COVAX initiative for more than 190 nations. At the beginning of the public health crisis that unravelled a powerful U.S. economy, the Republican former president accused WHO of covering up China’s failures in controlling the virus.
Amid growing demands for his administration to export some U.S.-manufactured vaccine supplies overseas, Biden urged greater international cooperation on vaccine distribution.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on the U.S. and European nations to contribute to developing countries up to 5 percent of existing vaccine stocks, the kind of vaccine diplomacy that China and Russia are now deploying.
Biden, who reported last week that by the end of July the U.S. will have ample vaccine to inoculate 300 million people, remains focused for now on ensuring that every American is vaccinated, officials of the administration say. Macron pressed the U.S. and Europe again on Friday to do more.
“It is up to Europeans and Americans to allow access to vaccines as quickly as possible for all the poor and emerging countries in the world,” he said.
The allies listened closely to what Biden had to say about Iran’s impending crisis.
This week, Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would suspend a clause in the 2015 agreement that required the U.N. to voluntarily enforce it next week. Nuclear inspectors to perform short notice inspections of undeclared sites in Iran unless by Feb. 23 the U.S. rolled back penalties
“We must now ensure that there is no problem with who is taking the first step,” Merkel told reporters. “If everyone is convinced that we should once again give this agreement a chance, then ways should be found to make this agreement move again.”