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Biden Calls for Democracies to Face Global Challenges Together
President Biden described America’s democratic alliances as vital to the world’s future during an address to American troops in Britain on Wednesday. The speech kicked off his first foreign trip as president.
This is my first overseas trip as president of the United States. I’m heading to the G7, then to the NATO ministerial, and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know. [applause] At every point along the way, we’re going to make it clear that the United States is back, and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future. That we’re committed to leading with strength, defending our values and delivering for our people. These partnerships have hardened, and have been hardened, in the fire of war. And generations of Americans and servicemembers who fought them. Like the original Bloody Hundredth and those are RAF pilots, and their shared mission in World War II — flying, fighting, winning, it’s done together. I believe we’re at an inflection point in world history. The moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel. As we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of a new age, we have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe, we have to expose as false the narrative that decrees of dictators can match the speed and scale of the 21st challenges. You know, and I know they’re wrong. Generation after generation of American heroes have signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart. That liberation, opportunity, justice is far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in emerging autocracies in the world.
President Biden described America’s democratic alliances as vital to the world’s future during an address to American troops in Britain on Wednesday. The speech kicked off his first foreign trip as president.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
RAF MILDENHALL, England — President Biden began his first overseas trip by telling American troops in Britain that the future of the world depends on restoring the longstanding alliances with European countries that have been “hardened in the fire of war” and built by “generations of Americans.”
Speaking to troops at RAF Mildenhall, he called his weeklong diplomatic overture “essential,” saying that no nation acting alone can meet the world’s challenges. But he also vowed to stand up to adversaries like China and Russia, pledging to tell President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “what I want him to know.”
On the eve of meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.
Mr. Biden also cast his trip in broader terms, as an effort to rally the United States and its allies in an existential battle between democracy and autocracy.
“I believe we’re in an inflection point in world history,” Mr. Biden said, “a moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize enormous opportunities in the new age.”
Mr. Biden called out autocrats like the Russian president for promoting false stories about the failings of democracies.
“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” he said.
The RAF base at Mildenhall is used almost exclusively by American forces and is a critical air refueling wing. Its history reaches back into World War II, and it was a key base in the Cold War for the United States’ Strategic Air Command, which maintained its nuclear deterrent. In the ’70s and ’80s, it was also a frequent site of antiwar and antinuclear protests.
But those are largely gone, and in 2015 it seemed like the base would be closed. Two years ago it got a reprieve, and remains one of the strongholds of U.S. forces in Britain.
Mr. Biden will hold his first face-to-face meeting of the trip with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Thursday, ahead of the formal start of the Group of 7 meeting.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden, in his first trip abroad since taking office, arrives in Europe today with a daunting agenda: Reassure allies that the hostility of the Trump years was a momentary aberration in U.S. policy, coax them toward coordinated policies on Russia, China, global warming and the coronavirus, and then confront Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
It would be a formidable set of challenges in the easiest of times. These are not those times.
Mr. Biden is fighting to pursue his domestic agenda, including a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan, with razor-thin Democratic control of Congress and determined Republican opposition. The United States is well along the road to emerging from the pandemic and recession, but much of the world remains caught in their grip, and health experts warn that no country is safe from the virus until every country is.
Mr. Putin, the Russian president, who has stated that a “new Cold War” is underway, appears as determined as ever to undermine Western economies, alliances and political systems. Mr. Biden takes a much tougher rhetorical stand on Russia than his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, but the White House has limited leverage at its disposal.
An increasingly authoritarian China is flexing its muscles commercially, diplomatically and militarily, and Mr. Biden sees it as more of a long-term challenge than Russia. But it is not clear how he might corral U.S. allies into a strategy to modify China’s behavior.
Mr. Biden has made ambitious promises on climate change, but other countries are skeptical about the strength and durability of American commitment.
Hanging over the trip will be the specter of Mr. Trump, who disdained and threatened traditional alliances, abandoned international agreements, started trade wars and displayed an affinity for autocratic leaders, including Mr. Putin.
But however friendly the reception, European leaders are wary, having learned that what they once took to be immutable American policies could change suddenly.
Mr. Biden will travel tonight to Cornwall, the southwestern tip of England, where the annual summit meeting of the Group of 7 large, wealthy democracies will be held from Friday through Sunday. Beginning on Thursday, he will also hold one-on-one meetings with other G7 leaders, and on Sunday he will visit Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
On Monday, Mr. Biden will attend the NATO summit in Brussels and have bilateral meetings with NATO heads of government, and on Tuesday, he will meet there with leaders of the European Union, many of whose member countries are also in NATO.
He will meet with Mr. Putin on Wednesday in Geneva, and then return to Washington.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Biden, under pressure to aggressively address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, will announce as early as Thursday that his administration will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate them among about 100 countries over the next year, according to people familiar with the plan.
The White House reached the deal just in time for Mr. Biden’s eight-day European trip, which is his first opportunity to reassert the United States as a world leader and restore relations that were badly frayed by President Donald J. Trump.
“We have to end Covid-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Mr. Biden told American troops after landing at R.A.F. Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face, and there will be others. It requires coordinated multilateral action.”
People familiar with the Pfizer deal said the United States would pay for the doses at a “not for profit” price. The first 200 million doses will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, they said. The doses will be distributed through Covax, the international vaccine-sharing initiative.
Mr. Biden is in Europe for a week to attend the NATO and Group of 7 summits and to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Geneva. He is likely to use the trip to call on other nations to step up vaccine distribution.
In a statement on Wednesday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House official in charge of devising a global vaccination strategy, said Mr. Biden would “rally the world’s democracies around solving this crisis globally, with America leading the way to create the arsenal of vaccines that will be critical in our global fight against Covid-19.”
The 500 million doses still fall far short of the 11 billion the World Health Organization estimates are needed to vaccinate the world, but significantly exceed what the United States has committed to share so far. Other nations have been pleading with the United States to give up some of its abundant vaccine supplies. Less than 1 percent of people are fully vaccinated in a number of African countries, compared with 42 percent in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Advocates for global health welcomed the news, but reiterated their stance that it is not enough to simply give vaccine away. They say the Biden administration must create the conditions for other countries to manufacture vaccines on their own, including transferring the technology to make the doses.
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One of the toughest issues President Biden is expected to take up this week with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is the status of Northern Ireland, where Brexit-fueled tensions threaten the return of lethal sectarian violence.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the Troubles, the 30-year guerrilla war between Catholic nationalists seeking unification with the Republic of Ireland and predominantly Protestant unionists, who want to stay in the United Kingdom. The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland virtually disappeared, allowing unfettered movement of people and commerce.
But now, a part of London’s Brexit deal with Brussels is inflaming resentment among the unionists. To avoid resurrecting a hard border with Ireland — an unpopular idea on both sides of the boundary — the Northern Ireland Protocol requires checks on goods flowing between the North and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Creating a commercial border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country violates promises made by the British government, and imposes an economic and psychological cost. Northern Irish people who want to remain in Britain feel betrayed, and there have been violent protests against the protocol.
“It has hit the community here like a ton of bricks that this is a separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom,” said David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents paramilitary groups that some say are stirring up unrest.
Mr. Biden has warned Mr. Johnson, who campaigned for Brexit and negotiated the deal with Brussels, not to do anything to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. He is also mulling the appointment of a presidential envoy for Northern Ireland.
“That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday.
Asked if Mr. Johnson had taken steps to imperil the agreement, Mr. Sullivan added: “President Biden is going to make statements in principle on this front. He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums.”
President Donald J. Trump embraced Mr. Johnson and Brexit, but Mr. Biden has been cooler to both. The new president is also a Roman Catholic and devoted Irish-American, fueling speculation that he would be more favorable to the Irish nationalist cause.
Among loyalists there has been blowback against the Democratic Unionists, a Northern Irish party that supported Brexit. That, in turn, could create an opening for Sinn Fein, the leading republican party, which opposed Brexit.
If Sinn Fein were to win next year’s elections for the Northern Irish Assembly, that would put unification with the Republic squarely on the agenda, enraging unionists.
“You have a very stark choice,” Michelle O’Neill, the party’s leader, said in an interview. “Do you want to be part of inward-looking Brexit Britain or outward-looking, inclusive Ireland?”
Credit…Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
MOSCOW — A Russian court on Wednesday designated Aleksei A. Navalny’s political movement as extremist, a remarkable broadside by President Vladimir V. Putin that also sent a message to President Biden ahead of their meeting in Geneva next week: Russian domestic affairs are not up for discussion.
The court decision — almost certainly with the Kremlin’s blessing — seemed likely to push the resistance to Mr. Putin further underground, after several months in which the Russian government’s yearslong effort to suppress dissent has entered a new, more aggressive phase. Under the law, Mr. Navalny’s organizers, donors, or even social-media supporters could now be prosecuted and face prison time.
The ruling heightened the stakes of the summit in Geneva for Mr. Biden, who has promised to push back against violations of international norms by Mr. Putin. On arriving in Britain on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said, “The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activity.”
The Russian president has said that, while he is prepared to discuss cyberspace and geopolitics with Mr. Biden, he will not engage in talks over how he runs his country.
“Views on our political system can differ,” Mr. Putin told the heads of international news agencies last week. “Just give us the right, please, to determine how to organize this part of our life.”
In recent months, Mr. Putin has dismantled much of what remained of Russian political pluralism — and made it clear that he would ignore Western criticism.
Mr. Navalny was arrested in January when he returned to Moscow, after being treated for a poisoning last year that Western officials say was carried out by Russian agents. Since then, thousands of Russians have been detained at protests; leading opposition politicians have been jailed or forced into exile; online media outlets have been branded “foreign agents.”
The Kremlin denies playing any role in the campaign against Mr. Navalny and his movement, and insists Russia’s judiciary is independent. Analysts and lawyers, however, widely see the courts as subordinate to the Kremlin and the security services, especially on politically sensitive cases.
Mr. Putin has already signaled that he will reject any criticism of the Kremlin’s handling of the Navalny case by claiming that the United States has no standing to lecture others. At Russia’s marquee annual economic conference in St. Petersburg last week, Mr. Putin repeatedly invoked the arrests of the Capitol rioters in Washington in January when challenged about repression in Russia or its ally Belarus.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Meeting over the next week with European leaders, President Biden will try to rally a Western alliance shaken by four years of President Donald J. Trump, making the case that the United States is back and ready to lead anew.
The Europeans wonder if it’s true, or if Mr. Biden represents the last gasp of an old-style, internationalist American foreign policy.
As president, Mr. Trump, with his “America first” outlook and isolationist and protectionist instincts, disparaged and unwound traditional relationships and embraced autocrats like Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Mr. Biden arrives in Europe with considerable good will simply by not being Mr. Trump, determined to face what he calls an existential collision between democracies and autocracies. But at 78, the oldest United States president in history, he cannot escape lingering doubts about his durability or that of his policies.
The Europeans have seen that a single election can upend generations of bipartisan consensus in the United States in support of Western alliances, and now they believe it can happen again.
Mr. Biden’s overarching task is to deliver the diplomatic serenity that eluded such gatherings during the Trump years. The White House argues that stable American diplomacy is back for good, even though it can offer no guarantees beyond his tenure.
Mr. Trump has hinted at a comeback, and even if it never materializes, his grip on the Republican Party remains strong, his views popular within the party and its lawmakers within hailing distance of controlling Congress.
Just days before Mr. Biden’s trip, Republicans in Congress rejected the creation of a bipartisan commission to examine the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Sitting Republican lawmakers embrace Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. And Democrats are faltering in their efforts to pass sweeping legislation to counter Republican attacks on voting rights at the state level.
Many European leaders view events in Washington with deep unease.
“They have seen the state of the Republican Party,” said Barry Pavel, the director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “They’ve seen Jan. 6. They know you could have another president in 2024.”
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Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
China and global warming rank high on President Biden’s list of long-range global concerns. And as he travels to Europe on Wednesday for a week of summit meetings, U.S. allies wonder if they are being asked to sign up for a China containment policy, and whether Mr. Biden can deliver on climate?
While growing more repressive at home, China is expanding its commercial, military and political reach abroad — and its greenhouse gas emissions. The Europeans largely do not see China as the kind of rising threat that Washington does, but it is an argument where the United States is making headway.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed on to an effort by Washington to ensure that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, does not win new contracts to install 5G cellular networks in Britain. United States officials have raised concerns that Huawei equipment could become a back door to Chinese government surveillance or control of communications.
Some in Europe are following suit, but Mr. Biden’s aides said they felt blindsided when the European Union announced an investment agreement with China days before Mr. Biden’s inauguration. It reflected fears that if the continent got sucked into the U.S.-China rivalry, European companies would suffer.
Mr. Biden is going in the other direction: Last week he signed an executive order barring Americans from investing in Chinese companies that are linked to the country’s military or that sell technology used to repress dissent inside and outside China.
For the move to be effective, though, the allies would have to join. So far, few have expressed enthusiasm for the effort.
China, which now emits more climate-heating gases than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, is key to reaching ambitious goals to fight climate change. Peter Betts, the former lead climate negotiator for Britain and the European Union, said the test for Mr. Biden was whether he could lead other nations in a successful campaign to pressure Beijing.
Four years ago, President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris climate agreement.
Mr. Biden is reversing that stance, pledging to cut U.S. emissions 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. He also wrote in an opinion essay in The Washington Post before the summit that with the United States back at the table, countries “have an opportunity to deliver ambitious progress.”
But world leaders remained leery of the United States’ willingness to enact serious emissions legislation and deliver on financial promises to poorer countries.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times
European leaders are relieved to meet again with a United States president who values alliances after four years of Donald J. Trump, who called the European Union “a foe,” dismissed NATO as “obsolete,” called its member countries freeloaders, and at first refused to explicitly endorse NATO’s bedrock mutual defense principle.
But that will not make the talks easy. There are difficult issues to discuss: the Afghanistan pullout, global warming, military spending, an aggressive Russia, an increasingly powerful and authoritarian China, trade disputes and vaccine diplomacy.
America’s renewed closeness to its allies is also expected to have price tags discreetly attached. “Biden also wants to see bang for the buck,” said Jana Puglierin, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “This is not unconditional love, but friends with benefits.”
Ivo H. Daalder, who was U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, sees the whole trip as “part of ‘We’re back,’ and important to show that alliances and partners matter, that we want to work with other countries and be nice to our friends.”
NATO leaders are expected to commission a yearlong effort to remodel the alliance’s strategic concept to meet new challenges in cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence, antimissile defense, disinformation, “emerging disruptive technologies” and numerous other issues.
In 2010, when the strategic concept was last revised, NATO assumed that Russia could be a partner and China was barely mentioned. The new one will begin with very different assumptions.
European leaders want greater “strategic autonomy,” less dependent on American leadership, but they also want close consultation with Washington.
German officials in particular are irked that Mr. Biden’s decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 was made unilaterally, with Washington deciding and the allies following along, Ms. Puglierin said. Similarly, European leaders were angered and embarrassed by Mr. Biden’s decision — made without warning to allies — to support the waiver of intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines.
Trans-Atlantic relations will not easily return to their pre-Trump status. Europeans saw 75 years of American foreign policy vanish overnight with a new president.
“Don’t underestimate the Trump years as a shock to the E.U.,” said Rosa Balfour, the director of Carnegie Europe. “There is the shadow of his return and the E.U. will be left in the cold again. So the E.U. is more cautious in embracing U.S. demands.”
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The plane set to carry dozens of journalists to Europe to cover President Biden’s first trip abroad was on the runway, ready to take off.
The cicadas had other ideas.
Somehow, the flying insects had filled the plane’s engines, grounding it and forcing Mr. Biden’s aides to scramble for another way to ferry the reporters overseas. What was supposed to be a 9 p.m. departure was delayed until 11. And then until 2:15 a.m.
Perhaps it was inevitable, with billions of cicadas flying around much of the eastern United States in recent weeks. In the nation’s capital, where a brood that emerges every 17 years is near its beastly peak, they have crawled up the necks of TV journalists, splattered across car windshields and gotten tangled in the hair of anyone braving the swampy, 90-degree heat.
White House travel officials delivered news of the insect malfunction to reporters gathered at the airport hotel, along with assurances that a new plane was headed to Washington from New York. A new pilot in Cleveland was soon to be en route — and both, officials hoped, would make it safely through the cicada cloud, which has been dense enough around Washington to be picked up on weather radar.
Before he left for Europe on Wednesday morning, President Biden had his own encounter with a cicada: He brushed one off his neck as he headed to the airport.
“Watch out for cicadas,” he reminded reporters before boarding Air Force One.