In his first appearance as head of state at the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden will promote his multilateralist, diplomacy-focused worldview, administration officials said Monday.
“It’s an important and consequential week for President Biden and his leadership on the world stage and driving forward some critical priorities for America’s national security and for the broader peace and prosperity of the world,” a senior administration official told journalists on Monday.
That stance is in direct contrast to the “America First” doctrine of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The annual event is an opportunity for the 193-member assembly to discuss challenges of regional and global importance.
Biden traveled to New York on Monday evening for the in-person meeting of about 100 heads of state at U.N. headquarters, where he will meet on the sidelines with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Later Monday, he will meet in Washington with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Last week, the three nations announced a security pact that would provide American nuclear submarine technology and British naval expertise to Australia to help the country counter threats in the Indo-Pacific region. Analysts widely see the move as an attempt to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Conflict with China
At the U.N., Biden will also talk about his controversial decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which he has said is part of his administration’s focus on the real adversary: China. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the U.S. and China to avert what he said could be a potential Cold War, and he implored the two countries to fix their “completely dysfunctional” relationship.
“I wouldn’t agree with the characterization of the relationship,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, adding that Biden and his Chinese counterpart last week had a 90-minute conversation that was “candid, but it was certainly not elevated.”
She added: “Tomorrow the president will deliver a speech, as you all know, at the U.N. General Assembly, and he will make absolutely clear that he is not looking to pursue a future new Cold War with any country in the world.”
The senior Biden administration official said the president would visit those topics in his speech on Tuesday morning.
“The speech will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time: COVID-19, climate change, emerging technologies, and rules of the road on trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure that is noncorrupt and (of) high standard, a modern approach to counterterrorism, and vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War,” he said.
Rare rift with ally
But Biden’s globalist, cooperative vision clashes with an awkward reality. On Friday, America’s oldest ally, France, recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, expressing anger over what the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called a “stab in the back” delivered by those two nations when their submarine deal nullified a nearly $70 billion French-Australian deal for conventional submarines.
Psaki said Biden will soon have a phone call with his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, who is not planning to travel to New York. She declined to say whether the Biden administration would be making a compensatory gesture to France.
Psaki sought to downplay the rift, which marks the first time France has withdrawn an ambassador.
“Reestablishing alliances doesn’t mean that you won’t have disagreements or you won’t have disagreements about how to approach any particular issue in the world,” she said. “That is not the bar for having an alliance, an important partnership. That has never been and it is not currently.”
And later in the week, separate from the General Assembly meeting, Biden will host a summit on COVID-19, and will also meet with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Those two are members of the so-called “Quad,” a strategic dialogue that also includes Australia, which is seen as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence.