What's on the agenda for Biden's first foreign trip in office

Grant Boone
June 10, 2021

Joe Biden will fight what he calls a "defining" battle for democracy on his first foreign presidential trip, meeting top U.S. allies in Europe ahead of a tricky summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

However, after Donald Trump's tenure, allies "will receive these reassuring words with little skepticism", says Susan Maloney of the Washington-based Brookings think tank. And leaders whose COVID-19 vaccination efforts have been slower are likely to pressure Biden to share more of the USA vaccine surplus with countries around the world.

"We are in a competition with China to win the 21st century", said Biden in a speech to the U.S. Congress in April. "We want a stable and predictable relationship where we can work with Russian Federation on issues like strategic stability and arms control".

Earlier this week, European Council President Charles Michel told Bloomberg and a small group of other news outlets that the Brussels summit would be an opportunity for the two sides to coordinate and exchange views ahead of Biden's meeting with Putin.

President Biden arrived in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, kicking off his eight-day trip overseas by declaring that "the United States is back" and that the democracies of the world "are standing together". He will face world leaders still grappling with the virus and rattled by four years of Trump's inward-looking foreign policy and moves that strained longtime alliances as the Republican former president made overtures to strongmen. USA officials see that effort as a way to counter China's growing influence.

Biden will have a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday in Cornwall, a chance to renew the U.S.

Mr. Biden will cap off the trip Wednesday with his first in-person meeting with Putin since becoming president.

The U.S. and the European Union plan to launch a framework next week to harmonize policy on Russian Federation, a country that's drawn increasing western criticism for flouting worldwide norms and a deteriorating record on human rights. He also wants to persuade allies to join him in efforts to contain China. France, meanwhile, has taken the tack that the US can't be trusted as it once was and that the European Union must pursue greater strategic autonomy going forward.

French President Emmanuel Macron slapped in the face
The incident was caught on camera as a bearded man wearing glasses and a face mask slapping the president hard on his left cheek. The man was swiftly swarmed by security. "We have no further comment to make at this stage", said an Elysée official on Tuesday.

The meetings are a build-up to his face-to-face meeting with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. His press Secretary says that President Biden has been preparing for 50 years for this trip.

Biden said "we have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe", and that leaders "have to work harder than ever to prove that democracy can still deliver for our people". On climate change, the U.S.is aiming to regain its credibility after Trump pulled the country back from the fight against global warming.

Biden is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss President Guy Parmelin.

Another central focus will be China.

Biden will also press Putin about saber-rattling on the Ukrainian border, the imprisonment of opponent Alexei Navalny, and his support for Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian strongman who forced a Ryanair airliner to land in Minsk, then arrested an opponent on the flight.

Biden and the other G-7 leaders are expected to announce a financing program to help developing countries build roads, ports and similar infrastructure.

Biden's meeting on the sidelines of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises to be especially prickly.

Biden has irked Erdogan, a sometimes Trump ally, by highlighting Turkey's dire human rights situation and recognizing the Ottoman Empire's genocide against the Armenians.

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