(AP) — President Joe Biden
kicked off his first overseas trip of his presidency on Wednesday by declaring that “the United States
is back,” as he seeks to reassert the country on the global stage and reassure European allies shaken by his predecessor.
The stakes for Biden's eight-day trip are high, believing that the West must publicly demonstrate its ability to compete economically with China
as the world recovers from the coronavirus pandemic
, an open repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Trump
, who scorned alliances and withdrew from a global climate change
agreement that Biden has since rejoined.
The president's first stop was at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where he met with US troops and their families and explained his mission for the trip.
“We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back, and democracies are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and issues that matter the most to our future,” he said, emphasizing his commitment to “leading with strength, defending our values, and delivering for our people
As the president and the audience wore masks
, a reminder of the pandemic that is still raging throughout much of the world even as its threat recedes within the United States, the challenges that await Biden overseas were clear.
“We have to end COVID-19 everywhere, not just at home, which we are doing,” Biden said.
People briefed on the situation said that the Biden administration
had reached an agreement with Pfizer
to purchase 500 million COVID-19 vaccine
doses to be donated to 92 low-income countries and the African Union over the next year.
adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden was committed to sharing vaccines
because it was in the United States' public health
and strategic interests. He added that Biden wants to demonstrate “that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere.”
“As he said in his joint session (address), we were the ‘arsenal of democracy
’ in WWII, and we will be the ‘arsenal of vaccines’ over the next period to help end the pandemic,” Sullivan said.
Following his address to the troops, Biden and first lady Jill Biden
flew to Cornwall Airport Newquay, then drove to Tregenna Castle in St. Ives, where they will stay until Sunday.
In the run-up to his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin
, Biden will seek to reassure European capitals that the US can once again be counted on as a reliable partner to counter Moscow
's aggression on both the eastern front and the internet battlefields.
The trip will be focused on messaging rather than specific actions or deals, and Biden's top priority will be to persuade the world that his Democratic
administration is more than just a blip in the trajectory of an American foreign policy
that many allies fear has irreversibly shifted toward a more transactional approach under Trump.
“At its core, the trip will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden’s foreign policy,” Sullivan said, “to rally the world’s democracies to tackle our time’s great challenges.”
Biden has a lengthy to-do list.
Biden wants to privately press Putin during their meeting in Geneva to end a slew of provocations, including cybersecurity
attacks on American businesses by Russian-based hackers
, the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny
, and repeated overt and covert attempts by the Kremlin to meddle in US elections
Biden also hopes to rally allies behind their COVID-19 response and persuade them to unite behind a strategy to check emerging economic and national security competitor China, even as the US expresses concern about Europe's economic ties to Moscow. Biden also hopes to nudge outlying allies, such as Australia
, to make more aggressive commitments to the global effort to combat global warming
The week-plus journey is a watershed moment for Biden, who traveled the world for decades as vice president and chair of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee and has now stepped off Air Force One onto international soil as commander in chief. He will meet world leaders still dealing with the virus and shaken by four years of Trump's inward-looking foreign policy and moves that strained longtime allies.
The president will first attend a Group of Seven leaders' summit in the United Kingdom
, then travel to Brussels for a NATO summit and a meeting with the heads of the European Union
, at a time when Europeans have lowered their expectations of U.S. leadership on the global stage.
Central and Eastern Europeans are desperately hoping to bind the United States more tightly to their security. Germany
wants the United States to maintain its troop presence there so that it does not need to build its own. France
, on the other hand, has taken the position that the United States cannot be trusted as it once was and that the European Union must pursue greater strategic autonomy in the future.
“I think the concern is legitimate that Trumpian tendencies in the United States could resurface in full force in the midterms or the next presidential election,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former US diplomat and former NATO deputy secretary general.
The timing of the trip is deliberate: Biden will spend a week consulting with Western European allies as a show of unity before meeting with Putin.
A day before the G-7
summit above the craggy cliffs of Cornwall overlooking the Atlantic Ocean
, Biden will meet with British
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
While Biden is a veteran statesman, many of the world leaders he will meet in England, including Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron
, took office after the pandemic and have grown frustrated by the pandemic's diplomacy-via-Zoom dynamics.
There are several potential points of contention. On climate change, the United States is attempting to reestablish credibility after Trump withdrew the country from the fight against global warming. Biden may also face pressure on trade, an issue to which he has yet to devote much attention.
Another focal point will be China, with Biden and the other G-7 leaders announcing an infrastructure
financing program for developing countries that will compete directly with Beijing
's Belt-and-Road Initiative. However, not every European power has viewed China as harshly as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the twenty-first century.
The European Union has avoided taking a strong stance on Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong
's democracy movement or on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims
and other ethnic minorities in western Xinjiang province as the Biden administration would like, but there are signs that Europe is willing to put greater pressure on Beijing.
While in Brussels, Biden will also meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a face-to-face meeting between two leaders who have had many tense moments in their relationship.
Biden's meeting with Putin will cap off the trip.
Biden's approach to Russia has been markedly different from Trump's friendly outreach; their sole summit, held in Helsinki in July 2018, was marked by Trump's refusal to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over Putin's denials of Russian election meddling two years earlier.