President Joe Biden began his first foreign trip since taking office on Wednesday by praising America’s unshakeable commitment to the NATO alliance and warned Russia that it would suffer “robust and meaningful” repercussions if it participated in damaging activities.
Biden told around 1,000 servicemen and their families at a British air station that he would send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met next week following separate summits with NATO, G7, and European leaders.
“We’re not seeking conflict with Russia,” the Democratic president said at the start of his eight-day visit to Europe. “We want a stable and predictable relationship … but I’ve been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way if the Russian government engages in harmful activities.”
Biden has said he is determined to rebuild trans-Atlantic ties and reframe relations with Russia after four rocky years under Republican former President Donald Trump, whose tariffs and withdrawal from treaties strained relations with major allies.
“This is my first overseas trip as president of the United States. I’m heading to the G7, then the NATO ministerial and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know,” Biden said, drawing cheers from the troops.
“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.”
Biden told reporters as he left for Europe that his goals were “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight.”
His meeting with Putin in Geneva on June 16 is the trip’s high point, providing an opportunity for the US to express its concerns directly to the Russian leader about ransomware attacks coming from Russia, Moscow’s aggressiveness towards Ukraine, and a variety of other issues.
A Russian court on Wednesday blacklisted organisations linked to imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, calling them “extremist,” further weakening US-Russia ties. The United States State Department condemned the decision, saying it “effectively criminalised one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements.”
Speaking to U.S. troops based at Royal Air Force Mildenhall base, a huge American flag behind him, Biden underscored the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance but said it needed to modernize and expand its cyber capabilities.
Biden will also bring a goodwill gesture to Europe, with the anticipated announcement that the US will buy and give 500 million Pfizer Inc/BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) coronavirus vaccine doses to roughly 100 nations over the next two years, according to three persons familiar with the situation.
Biden is slated to make the announcement on Thursday. The United States has been chastised for failing to get access to a large portion of the original stockpile of the most promising vaccinations.
G7 SUMMIT, MEETING WITH JOHNSON
Biden will make his first stop of the trip at the seaside village of St. Ives in Cornwall where he will participate in the G7 summit. The meeting is expected to be dominated by vaccine diplomacy, trade, climate and an initiative for rebuilding infrastructure in the developing world. U.S. officials see that effort as a way to counter China’s growing influence.
U.S. President Joe Biden salutes while boarding Air Force One as he departs on travel to attend the G-7 Summit in England, the first foreign trip of his presidency, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
His proposal for a worldwide minimum tax on transnational firms is being met with hostility at home. Before the meeting, G7 finance ministers agreed to pursue a worldwide minimum tax rate of at least 15% and to allow market nations to tax up to 20% on excess earnings – above a 10% margin – earned by approximately 100 large, profitable corporations.
Republicans spoke out against the proposal this week, possibly hindering the United States’ capacity to execute a larger global accord.
Biden will have a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday in Cornwall, a chance to renew the U.S.-British “special relationship” after Britain’s Brexit break from the European Union. The two countries will issue an updated joint statement of principles between the two countries in honor of the original Atlantic Charter from 1941.
But the two have deep policy issues to discuss, with Biden set to reinforce stalwart U.S. support for the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
The deal has been called into doubt as a result of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Climate change, a strategy to offset China’s global influence on infrastructure, and the departure of Western troops from Afghanistan will also be discussed by Biden and Johnson.
When Biden talks with German authorities, the Russian Nord Stream 2 project will also be on the table. The Biden administration is opposed to the $11 billion natural gas pipeline, but Germany insists on its completion.
Biden and his wife, Jill, will pay a visit to Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle after three days of G7 summitry. Biden, 78, first met the queen in 1982, when he was a U.S. senator from Delaware.
RUSSIA AND CHINA
Biden then travels to Brussels for talks with leaders of NATO and the European Union. The agenda is expected to be dominated by Russia, China and the perennial issue of getting NATO allies to contribute more to the common defense.
Biden closes out the trip in Geneva for what could prove to be the most difficult meeting of the trip – a session with Putin, who enjoyed friendly relations with Trump.
No major breakthroughs are expected from the summit.
Asked by reporters if his meeting with Putin would yield some accord on cybersecurity, Biden was non-committal.
“Who knows?” said Biden. “It’s going to be a subject of our discussion.”