Biden Urges Global Cooperation on Covid-19, Climate Change
President Biden outlined a U.S. foreign-policy vision rooted in global alliances during his first address to the United Nations as commander-in-chief, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy at a moment when relations with some U.S. allies are strained.
Mr. Biden called for a shift away from armed conflict after two decades of war in Afghanistan and the Middle East. “As we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy,” he said, standing in the U.N. assembly hall in front of the iconic serpentinite stone backdrop.
The U.S. president made the case that the biggest issues facing the world—from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change—can only be solved with cooperation among countries with varying national interests. The world, he said, is facing a major inflection point in its history.
“Our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity and to act together,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the millions of lives lost during the pandemic. He predicted that the next decade “will quite literally determine our futures.”
He encouraged competition among rising powers, but stressed that he is “not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocks.”
“All the major powers of the world have a duty, in my view, to carefully manage their relationships so they do not tip from responsible competition to conflict,” the president said.
Mr. Biden, now eight months into his presidency, campaigned on restoring U.S. alliances and leaned heavily on his foreign-policy experience as a globe-trotting former vice president and senator. During his first trip abroad last spring, he argued that “America is back” on the world stage.
In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has faced criticism both at home and abroad for how the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan as well as a drone strike that mistakenly killed Afghan civilians.
Congressional Republicans said Mr. Biden’s address fell short after the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, which they said emboldened American adversaries and undercut allies. “Tough talk is useless if it’s followed by weak actions,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
U.S. relations with France, meanwhile, have hit a low point after Australia said last week that it would cancel a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France to pursue a similar agreement with the U.S. and the U.K. France recalled its ambassadors to Washington and Australia, and the French foreign minister called the agreement a “stab in the back.”
Mr. Biden met later in the day in New York with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, where the two leaders emphasized their countries’ longstanding partnership.
In his speech, Mr. Biden pointed to a U.N. Security Council resolution passed this summer that urged the Taliban to provide safe passage for those wishing to leave the country. He called for the respect of human rights, including the “rights of women and girls to use their full talents.”
Mr. Biden said the U.S. would continue to defend its interests and fight terrorism, but made the case that any military mission should have clear objectives, the consent of the American people and buy-in from American allies.
“U.S. military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first,” he said.
The Biden administration has been working to shift international focus to Asia and counter China’s global influence. Mr. Biden will convene a summit Friday with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan—an alliance called the Quad—and hold one-on-one meetings with the countries’ leaders.
The policy emphasis on the Pacific Rim and Indian Ocean, following earlier efforts in that direction by the Trump and Obama administrations, puts the U.S. at odds with China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is seeking to carve out a major role in U.N. organizations.
Mr. Biden didn’t mention China by name, but the country was a theme of his remarks. The president called for transparent and sustainable investment in global infrastructure, criticizing projects that are “low-quality or that feed corruption” in a tacit rebuke of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Group of Seven wealthy nations unveiled a competing global infrastructure program earlier this year called Build Back Better World.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, in an interview this week with the Associated Press, called on Washington to improve what he called its dysfunctional relationship with Beijing, warning of a cold war between the countries.
“We need to avoid at all cost a cold war that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage,” Mr. Guterres said.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told reporters Friday that the U.S. relationship with China is “complex, and it goes without saying that there are tensions, but there are areas where we are able to cooperate.” She added that “it does not mean that we ignore the areas where we have contentions, such as issues of human rights.”
Seeking to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Mr. Biden reiterated his interest in returning to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord if Iran is willing to do the same. And he voiced his support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The president also emphasized global human rights, pledging that the U.S. would spend $10 billion to end hunger and invest in food systems around the world.
Mr. Biden will hold a virtual summit Wednesday with heads of state and global health officials on the coronavirus. During the event, he is expected to call on world leaders to commit to vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid-19 within a year, according to a person familiar with draft targets outlined by the administration.
The president is also scheduled to hold a one-on-one meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the White House on Tuesday afternoon and is expected to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron in the coming days following the public dispute between the two countries.
The annual U.N. gathering was largely virtual last year, and attendance this year has also been limited, with many heads of state and other top officials delivering messages by video. U.S. diplomats this year asked countries to limit the size of their delegations.
Heads of state and their aides are supposed to be vaccinated to enter the assembly hall. But U.N. officials won’t be enforcing the rule, instead relying on the honor system. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who tested positive for Covid-19 in 2020 and has said he isn’t vaccinated, spoke before Mr. Biden. The White House said the lectern was cleaned and the microphone head was replaced between speakers.
In his remarks, Mr. Biden encouraged countries to embrace more ambitious national plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and press wealthy nations to commit more money to help the developing world shift away from fossil fuels.
Mr. Biden said the U.S. would ask Congress to double public and international financing to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change. It is his second such pledge this year. During a White House climate summit in April, Mr. Biden said he would double an existing U.S. commitment of roughly $2.8 billion a year. The president’s Tuesday announcement would bring the total annual outlay to about $11 billion by 2024.
The president said earlier this year that the U.S. would seek to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. The year 2005 is a common baseline for such climate targets.
Mr. Guterres warned Monday that the coming climate summit in Glasgow runs a “high risk of failure” unless world leaders take stronger measures to stem emissions. “So today I ask leaders to do what is needed to make sure COP26 is a success and that it marks a true turning point,” Mr. Guterres said.