Sat | Jun 19, 2021
United States

Biden to get warm welcome from relieved but wary allies

Published:Wednesday | June 9, 2021 | 12:10 AM
Joe Biden.
Joe Biden.


When US President Joe Biden flies to Europe this week, he will find his hosts welcoming but wary. His predecessor Donald Trump may be gone, but he leaves a long shadow.

Biden’s first foreign trip as president starts today and includes a gathering of the Group of Seven wealthy nations by the seaside in southwest England, a NATO summit, a meeting with European Union chiefs, and then a tete-a-tete in Geneva with his Russian counterpart and adversary, Vladimir Putin.

For most of America’s allies, Biden is a relief. Trump often sowed chaos, accusing the NATO military alliance of leeching off the United States, insulting the European Union and storming out of a G-7 summit in Canada in 2018. In contrast, Biden has stressed his support for international diplomacy and emphasised “America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners” in a recent Washington Post article.

“I think we can expect to see lots of rhetoric and lots of good-vibe messages in this first visit of Biden to Europe,” said Renata Dwan, deputy director of international affairs think tank Chatham House.

But she added that five months into Biden’s term, “it’s time to be more than ‘not Donald Trump’.”

Biden has already mended some fences with America’s allies. The US has rejoined the Paris climate accord that Trump renounced, ended a minor trade war with the EU over aviation rivalry and is backing attempts to revive a deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions that Trump abandoned.

“America is back. And we are happy you are back,” European Council President Charles Michel told Biden in March, when the president joined a video summit of EU leaders.

Yet it’s not all smooth sailing, especially for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the first G-7 summit in two years this weekend at the Carbis Bay resort in Cornwall.

Johnson wants to use the UK’s G-7 presidency to inject new purpose into the wealthy nations’ club – undermined by Trump’s unilateralism and sideswiped by the coronavirus pandemic – and to burnish the international image of a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’.

He’s happy with Biden’s commitment to fighting climate change that should help give momentum to November’s COP26 global climate summit in Scotland. And Biden’s promise to start sharing coronavirus vaccines with poorer countries – something aid agencies say should have happened sooner – chimes with Johnson’s call for G-7 leaders to ensure the whole world is vaccinated by the end of 2022.

Closer to home, the British leader hopes Biden will agree to a transatlantic travel corridor to help business and tourism recover from the pandemic. And he is seeking a UK-US trade deal, touted by the British government as a plum post-Brexit economic prize.

But he has hurdles to overcome. A trade deal is not a Biden priority, and Johnson will have to work hard to charm a president who once called the prime minister a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.

Biden has criticised Brexit, and is particularly concerned about its impact on Northern Ireland. Because of its land border with EU member Ireland, Northern Ireland has been given a special economic status that is causing friction between the UK and the bloc and heightening political tensions within Northern Ireland.

Biden, keenly aware of the key role the US played in bringing about the Good Friday peace accord that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland, has warned there will be no trade deal with Britain if Brexit undermines the peace deal.

There are tensions and divergences among US and its other the allies, too. Biden has begun to rebuild ties with NATO, left angry and bewildered by Trump’s unilateralism and his ambiguous relationship with Russia’s Putin. Biden reassured the alliance that the US backed NATO’s doctrine of collective defence and would come to the rescue in the face of Russian aggression.