WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will use his biggest moment so far on the international stage at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to defend his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan and seek to re-establish America’s alliances and role in the international community.
The speech will be Biden’s first as president at the meeting, which will look much different from past gatherings with many world leaders opting to deliver their remarks virtually. Biden will also meet Tuesday with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in New York and with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the evening back at the White House.
“America is back,” Biden said during a meeting with the U.N. secretary general Monday. “We believe in the United Nations and its value because of the challenges we face today in ending Covid-19 and dealing with the gravest threat to humanity we’ve ever seen, which is the whole climate crisis we’re undergoing, that can only be met with global solutions. No one country can, no 10 countries can do it.”
But the summit comes at a time when some of the U.S.’s closest relationships have been strained following the chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left NATO allies complaining they were left out of the process and scrambling to evacuate their own people as the Taliban took control. Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, arguing it was no longer in America’s interest to remain, also has world leaders questioning what role the U.S. will play globally going forward — something Biden is expected to address head on.
“The president will essentially drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed a chapter focused on war and opens a chapter focused on purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy defined by working with allies and partners to solve problems that can’t be solved by military force and that require the cooperation of many nations around the world,” said a senior administration official.
Among the challenges Biden plans to address are the Covid pandemic, climate change, trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure, counterterrorism, and “vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War,” the official said.
Biden has also sparked tensions with France, one of America’s closest allies, following a security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom that would allow Australia to buy nuclear-powered submarines from the United States. The deal has drawn the fury of the French, who had planned to sell their own subs to the Australians.
France said last week it was recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, with French officials saying its Indo-Pacific interests were undermined by the new agreement. The White House is in the process of arranging a call with French President Emanuel Macron to discuss the issue, press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday
On the pandemic, Biden has indicated he will lay out a new strategy for vaccinating the world at the meeting and will call on other countries to increase their efforts. The administration official said the U.S. will have a series of announcements about further contributions the U.S. plans to make towards ending the pandemic.
The U.S. plans to hold a virtual Covid summit Wednesday to detail those goals, which will center around vaccinations, treatments and technologies to help end the pandemic.
“He is going to call for an all-hands-on-deck effort that can end this pandemic much more rapidly than if we allow for things to unfold without the kind of focused, sustained energy and effort that is required,” the administration official said.
Still, Biden is expected to face pressure from world leaders, particularly those in lower-income countries, who have pleaded with the U.S. to do more to help the billions of people who have yet to get their first doses of a vaccine before providing people in the U.S. with third shots, which the Biden administration has been pushing for.
The World Health Organization has called for a “moratorium” on boosters, and other international medical groups have blasted the U.S. for planning to start dolling out a third dose to Americans when only 20 percent of eligible people in lower-income countries have been at least partly vaccinated, compared to around 80 percent in some of the wealthiest countries, according to the WHO.
The U.S. has already given 140 million doses to nearly 90 countries and plans to give out another 200 million doses by the end of the year.
The U.S. sought to get out ahead of another area of pandemic-related criticism in the run up to the meeting by announcing plans Monday to end a Trump-era travel ban that had kept foreign nationals from 33 countries, including many of those in Europe, from traveling to the U.S. as a precaution against Covid.
On Monday, the administration said fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be able to travel to the U.S. with proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test.
This year’s gathering of world leaders will be largely scaled down because of the pandemic. The UN has said that 83 leaders will make their remarks in person with the rest of the global leaders’ making pre-recorded remarks. All delegates must be vaccinated to enter the debate hall and mask will be mandatory except when someone is directly addressing a meeting.