Washington, Sept. 20 (BNA): President Joe Biden will appear before the United Nations this week eager to make the world’s case to act quickly against the coronavirus, climate change and human rights abuses. His offer of greater global partnership comes at a time when allies are increasingly skeptical about how much US foreign policy has changed 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 scheduled to meet Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and address the assembly on Tuesday before the remainder of the week’s diplomacy moves to default settings and Washington.
At the virtual COVID-19 Summit he is hosting Wednesday, leaders will be urged to step up commitments to share vaccines, tackle hypoxia around the world, and address other critical issues related to the pandemic.
The president has also invited the prime ministers of Australia, India and Japan, which are part of the Pacific Alliance, to Washington and is expected to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the White House.
Biden’s chief envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield, provided a coherent answer beforehand to all diplomacy: “We believe our priorities are not just American priorities, they are global priorities,” the Associated Press reported Friday.
But over the past several months, Biden has found himself at odds with allies on a number of high-profile issues.
There have been notable disagreements over the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the frequency of sharing COVID-19 vaccines and international travel restrictions, and how best to respond to military and economic moves by China. Fierce French reactions erupted in recent days after the United States and Britain announced that they would help supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden opened his presidency by announcing “America’s Return” and pledging a more cooperative international approach.
At the same time, he focused on resetting national security priorities after 20 years marked by preoccupation with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and thwarting Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. He has tried to demonstrate that the United States and its democratic allies need to focus more on confronting the economic and security threats posed by China and Russia.
Biden faced resistance – and in moments of outright anger – from allies when the White House moved on important global decisions in what some saw as insufficient consultation.
France was furious about the submarine deal, which was designed to bolster Australian efforts to monitor China’s military in the Pacific, but spoiled a deal worth at least $66 billion for a fleet of 12 submarines built by a French contractor.
French President Emmanuel Macron summoned France’s ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations in Paris. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Australia and the United States had betrayed France. A French government spokesman said Biden and Macron were expected to speak by phone in the coming days.
“It was really a stab in the back,” Le Drian said. “It looks very much like what Trump did.”
The Biden administration and Australian officials say France was aware of their plans, and the White House has promised to “continue to be involved in the coming days to resolve our differences.”
But Biden and European allies were also not in agreement on other matters, including how quickly rich countries should share their stocks of coronavirus vaccines with poor countries.
Early on, Biden resisted calls to immediately begin donating 4% to 5% of stocks to developing countries. In June, the White House instead announced it would buy 500 million doses to distribute through a WHO-backed initiative to share the vaccine with low- and middle-income countries around the world. Biden is soon expected to announce additional steps to help vaccinate the world.
Allies among the Group of Seven major industrialized nations have shown varying levels of satisfaction with Biden’s calls to persuade fellow Democratic leaders to present a more united front to compete economically with Beijing. When the leaders met this year in England, they agreed to work to compete against China. But there was less unity about how to oppose the general position the group should take.
Canada, the United Kingdom and France largely supported Biden’s position, while Germany, Italy and the European Union were more reluctant.
Germany, which has strong trading relations with China, was careful to avoid a situation in which Germany or the European Union might have to choose a side between China and the United States.
Biden clashed with European leaders over his decision to meet an August 31 deadline to end the US war in Afghanistan, which resulted in the US and Western allies leaving before all of their citizens were evacuated from Taliban rule.
Britain and its other allies, many of whose troops followed US forces in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, urged Biden to keep the US military at Kabul airport for a longer period, but the president ultimately refused.
Administration officials see this week’s posts as an important moment for the president to clarify his priorities and mobilize support to address multiple crises in greater coordination.
It is also a time of political transition for some allies. Longtime German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to leave office after Germany holds elections later this month, and Macron will face his own voters in April at a time when his political star has waned.
J. Stephen Morrison, an expert on global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, expressed concern that the rift in US-France relations has occurred at a time when world leaders are falling far behind their goals in vaccinating the world and need to step up their efforts.
“We need these countries to be in a position to move forward on the kind of agenda … that the United States has put together,” Morrison said of Biden’s planned vaccination campaign. “So the absence of the French or their terribly lack of participation is a setback.”