Wed | Jun 16, 2021

In UK for first foreign trip, Biden to announce vaccine plan

Published:Thursday | June 10, 2021 | 12:10 AM
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden step off Air Force One at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England yesterday.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden step off Air Force One at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England yesterday.

MILDENHALL, England (AP):

Embarking on the first overseas trip of his term, President Joe Biden is eager to reassert the United States on the world stage, steadying European allies deeply shaken by his predecessor and pushing democracy as the only bulwark to rising forces of authoritarianism.

Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in sweeping terms, believing the West must publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Shortly before arriving at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where Biden was to speak to US troops, people briefed on the matter confirmed that the Biden administration had brokered an agreement with Pfizer to purchase 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be donated to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union over the next year.

Two hundred million doses — enough to fully protect 100 million people — will be shared this year according to two people briefed on the matter, with the balance to be donated in the first half of 2022.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One that Biden was committed to sharing vaccines, because it was in the public health and strategic interests of the US. As Biden embarks on his first foreign trip, he is aiming to show “that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere”.

“As he said in his joint session (address), we were the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in World War II,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to be the ‘arsenal of vaccines’ over this next period to help end the pandemic.”

Before leaving Washington, Biden told reporters the trip is about making clear to the leaders of China and Russia that the United States and Europe “are tight”.

Building toward his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden will aim to reassure European capitals that the United States can once again be counted on as a dependable partner to thwart Moscow’s aggression both on their eastern front and their Internet battlefields.

The trip will be far more about messaging than specific actions or deals. And the paramount priority for Biden is to convince the world that his Democratic administration is not just a fleeting deviation in the trajectory of an American foreign policy that many allies fear irrevocably drifted toward a more transactional outlook under former President Donald Trump.

“The trip, at its core, will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden’s foreign policy,” said Sullivan, “to rally the world’s democracies to tackle the great challenges of our time”.

Biden’s to-do list is ambitious.

In their face-to-face sit-down in Geneva, Biden wants to privately pressure Putin to end myriad provocations, including cybersecurity attacks on American businesses by Russian-based hackers, the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and repeated overt and covert efforts by the Kremlin to interfere in US elections.

Biden is also looking to rally allies on their COVID-19 response and to urge them to coalesce around a strategy to check emerging economic and national security competitor China even as the US expresses concern about Europe’s economic links to Moscow. Biden also wants to nudge outlying allies, including Australia, to make more aggressive commitments to the worldwide effort to curb global warming.

The week-plus journey is a big moment for Biden, who travelled the world for decades as vice president and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will now step off Air Force One onto international soil as commander-in-chief. He will face world leaders still grappling with the virus and rattled by four years of Trump’s inward-looking foreign policy and moves that strained longtime alliances as the Republican former president made overtures to strongmen.