WASHINGTON – Joe Biden embarks Wednesday on his first foreign trip as president, an eight-day swing across Europe that will give him a chance to shore up frayed alliances with U.S. allies and meet face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid rising tensions with Moscow.
He’ll also get to enjoy one of the perks of the presidency: a visit with Queen Elizabeth II.
Biden, who has been on the world stage for nearly five decades as senator, vice president and now president, has hosted the leaders of Japan and South Korea at the White House since taking office Jan. 20 but held off on traveling abroad because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic is still entrenched in much of the world, but Biden will arrive in the United Kingdom as the European Union reopens its borders to vaccinated tourists, including Americans.
Biden to confer with Europe allies, confront Putin
Joe Biden is heading to Europe for his first international trip as president to strategize with G7 democracies and other NATO allies before confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin about global issues during a meeting in Geneva. (June 7)
The focal point of Biden’s visit will be the Group of Seven summit, or G-7, which opens Friday in Carbis Bay, a seaside resort in Cornwall in southwest England. The summit is the first gathering of leaders of the world’s largest economies in nearly two years and the first of the post-Donald Trump era. Trump feuded with several of the group’s leaders during his presidency, and Biden sees the summit as a chance to heal those scars.
“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age,” Biden wrote last week in an op-ed published in The Washington Post.
Asked what Biden is doing to prepare for the trip, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to Biden’s long political career.
“He’s been getting ready for 50 years,” Psaki said Tuesday. “He has been on the world stage. He’s known a number of these leaders for decades, including President Putin and including a number of the leaders he’ll see at NATO and he’ll see at the G-7. Now this is an important opportunity for him to see them in person, and there’s nothing like face-to-face engagement in diplomacy.”
Here’s a closer look at what’s on Biden’s schedule:
Before Biden heads to the G-7, he will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a personality who is often seen as a kindred spirit with Trump.
Biden spoke with Johnson for the first time as president three days after taking office. The White House said Biden conveyed his intention “to strengthen the special relationship between our countries and revitalize trans-Atlantic ties.”
Biden used similar language in his op-ed, writing that the Johnson will provide a chance to “affirm the special relationship between our two nations.”
A profile published Monday in The Atlantic said Johnson doesn’t like the term “special relationship” and thinks it sounds “needy and weak,” which could add an element of tension as the two leaders mull issues such as the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit.
Biden and other G-7 leaders will have a lot to discuss when they gather in Carbis Bay for their seaside summit.
Climate change, defense and security and getting the global economy back on track in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are all on the agenda for the leaders’ 47th gathering. The countries announced last week that they agreed to back a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15% – a landmark deal that would mean multinational companies such as Amazon and Google would pay more taxes in the countries where the operate.
Besides the United States, the G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. The group’s last face-to-face summit took place nearly two years ago in the seaside resort of Biarritz in southwest France. Last year’s summit was scheduled to take place in Camp David, the countryside presidential retreat outside Washington but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before he heads off on the next leg of his trip, Biden and first lady Jill Biden will pay a visit Sunday with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
The 95-year-old monarch has met with every U.S. president except Lyndon Johnson during her nearly seven-decade reign. The meeting with Biden will be her first visit with a foreign leader since the death of her husband, Prince Philip, in April.
Details of the visit haven’t been made public, but Psaki suggested the Bidens are looking forward to chatting with Her Royal Highness.
“Who wouldn’t want to meet the queen?” she said.
From the U.K., Biden will head to Brussels, where he will join leaders of other NATO countries Monday to discuss tense ties with Russia and China, the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the future of the 30-nation military alliance.
The meeting will give Biden a chance to rebuild relations with leaders from Europe and Canada that became strained under Trump.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Biden at the White House on Monday. Afterward, Stoltenberg said the biggest challenge NATO member countries face is “an unpredictable world,” and the summit would be a strong demonstration of trans-Atlantic unity.
“We are stronger – we are safe together in the more unpredictable world,” he said. “A strong NATO is good for Europe, but it’s also good for the United States.”
The final leg of Biden’s European adventure will take him to Geneva, where he’ll sit down for a high-stakes summit with Putin on June 16.
The summit in Switzerland comes amid rising tensions between the two rival countries over allegations of Russian-backed hacking, human rights abuses, interference in U.S. elections and what the West sees as growing Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Monday, Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call that he intends to “stand firmly” for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as Russia amasses troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. Biden invited Zelensky to visit the White House this summer.
The meeting between Biden and Putin isn’t their first. Biden has talked of a visit with the Russian president in 2011 while he was vice president under Barack Obama. According to Biden’s account, he looked Putin in the eyes and proclaimed, “I don’t think you have a soul.” Putin looked back, smiled and said, “We understand one another,” according to Biden.
Next week’s summit could show whether they still do.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
7:19 am UTC Jun. 9, 2021
7:19 am UTC Jun. 9, 2021