President Biden is embarking on his first foreign trip since taking office Wednesday, spending a week with UK, European and Asian allies — along with Queen Elizabeth — ahead of a much-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As Biden’s meeting with Putin looms, top officials have stressed their priority is to consistently send the message that the US will provide more stability to allies in the face of a rising China and emboldened Russia.
Just prior to boarding Air Force One, the commander-in-chief said his goal for the trip was “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and China that Europe and the United States are tight.”
Biden also said he planned to unveil a global COVID-19 vaccination plan while abroad.
“[T]he trip, at its core, will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden’s foreign policy: to rally the world’s democracies to tackle the great challenges of our time,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters from the White House on Monday.
Travel got off to a slightly bumpy start, after the charter plane for the White House press corps following Biden to the UK was delayed for several hours Tuesday evening — after cicadas caused a mechanical issue for the jet.
The hiccup did not impact Biden’s travel Wednesday morning, though he did swat a cicada off him in front of reporters upon arriving at Joint Base Andrews.
Many allies have become wary of the United States’ frequently changing foreign policy stances in recent years, a result of years of divisive politics that led to multiple presidents in a row with clashing positions.
“I think our view going into this trip is that actions speak louder than words,” Sullivan said after being asked about those international concerns. He added that the US was showing it was “capable of turning the corner on the pandemic” as well as making “dramatic investments that will pull us up and out of this economic recovery and help power global growth.”
“Ultimately, setting that foundation for this country will be the most effective way to show the rest of the world that the United States has the power and purpose to be able to deliver as the world’s leading democracy,” he said.
The first stop on the commander-in-chief’s trip will be in the United Kingdom, where he’ll gather in Cornwall, England, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G7 summit this weekend.
Sullivan expressed confidence Monday in Biden’s ability to assure skeptical allies at the G7 that “the United States retains profound capacity to help rally the world’s democracies” around common goals.
“[W]hat I believe we will deliver just out of the G7 alone, in addition to the other meetings he’s going to have on this trip, will show that the United States retains profound capacity to help rally the world’s democracies to solve big problems,” he noted.
Following the G7, which concludes on Sunday, the US president will be joined by first lady Jill Biden to meet Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.
Afterward, the first lady will head back to the US, while the president will embark for Brussels for meetings with NATO leaders, including lukewarm ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Biden will stay in Belgium for two nights before heading to Geneva for his summit with Putin.
Much has been made about the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders, especially given the tense state of US-Russia relations.
Moscow has continued to flex its military muscle in Ukraine and in the Black Sea in recent months — along with its warning to the US to back off, which caused Biden to turn two US warships around in April that were headed there.
Biden declared a national emergency that month, slapping sanctions on more than three dozen people in Russia and expelling 10 diplomats.
Putin subsequently closed off the Kerch Strait to foreign warships until next fall.
On Monday, Putin signed a law officially ending the country’s involvement in the Open Skies Treaty, an international arms control pact that allows nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territories.
Then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year, after a six-month review that found multiple instances of Russia refusing to comply with it.
Once in office, Biden said he would not re-enter the pact.
Speculation surrounding the meeting also comes as Putin maintains his support for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who forced down a commercial passenger jet in his country’s airspace last week to detain dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich.
The US has since imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials.
Asked about the prospect of making progress on US-Russia relations during the summit, Sullivan told reporters it was important to note that Biden was meeting with other world leaders first.
“Meeting face to face is not just something you do with Vladimir Putin; it’s something President Biden is going to do — I think, all told, when you add it up — with somewhere approaching 35 or 36 leaders just on this one trip alone,” he began.
“At the end of the day, what we are looking to do is for the two presidents to be able to send a clear signal on question — to their teams on questions of strategic stability so that we can make progress in arms control and other nuclear areas to reduce tension and instability in that aspect of the relationship.”
With Post wires