PLYMOUTH, England — In his first remarks as president overseas, Joe Biden attempted to send a message to the rest of the world: America will resume its leadership role, recommit to global alliances and push democracy over the rise of authoritarianism.
“At every point along the way, we are going to make it clear that the United States is back and the democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and issues that matter most to our future,” Biden said.
Biden never mentioned his predecessor’s name in his first remarks on his eight-day trip late Wednesday. But he clearly tried to differentiate himself from Donald Trump’s isolationist approach that angered and shocked U.S. allies over the course of four years.
“We’re committed to leading with strength, defending our values, delivering for our people,” Biden said. “America is better positioned to advance our national security and economic prosperity when we bring together like-minded nations to stand with us.”
In his 20-minute speech to 1,000 service members and their families at Royal Base Mildenhall, Biden was eager to set a tone for his trip as strength in the face of challenges from Russia and China. He said he planned to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week “to let him know what I want him to know.”
Biden said he and other world leaders will take action to combat the pandemic, curb climate change and protect themselves from “the growing threat of ransomware attacks … [and] the autocrats who are letting it happen.”
Other nations are expected to press Biden to do more to help the world combat coronavirus. Just before he landed, his administration confirmed it is buying 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to share with the world. The move could lead to 200 million Pfizer doses being sent worldwide this year, followed by another 300 million across the first half of 2022.
“There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic,” Biden said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One that Biden is sharing vaccines because it is helpful for the health of the U.S.
“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.”
At Mildenhall, Biden seemed to enjoy the rousing applause from service members and spoke freely about his late son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and his uncle who was shot down over New Guinea in World War II. “At ease,” Biden said with a smile. “I keep forgetting I’m president.”
Mildenhall is home to the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, the only permanent U.S. Air Force air refuelling wing in Europe. Inside a hanger adorned with U.S. and British flags, a military band played. Outside, spectators had gathered for days to catch a glimpse of Air Force One as Biden arrived in the country.
“To all you airmen and soldiers, I wanna say thank you. We owe you,” Biden said before referring to his son. “We’re so damned proud of you. So proud. And I only wish my major was here to thank you as well, thank you for everything that you do.”
First Lady Jill Biden, who is accompanying her husband to the U.K., spoke before him. The president was introduced by a 14-year-old whose parents both serve in the military.
“You are our ambassadors to the world,” the first lady said. “Thank you for representing us with dignity and pride.”
Biden will spend the next four days at the Group of Seven gathering of world leaders. He will also hold talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and pay a brief visit to Queen Elizabeth.
He is expected to discuss a host of issues, including trade and taxes, before heading to Brussels to to confer with NATO and European Union leaders about security in the face of challenges from Russia and China.
His last stop will be Geneva, where he will meet with Putin. Biden invited Putin to the meeting, even though their talk is not expected to lead to any immediate agreements. The White House says Biden wanted to meet with Putin to press him directly on cyberattacks and human rights and to discuss areas where they may have common ground, including nuclear arms control and climate change.
World leaders are eager to see how Biden will approach international issues as president in part because of the lack of emphasis on it during his first four-and-half months in office. Biden is expected to portray his vision as the opposite of Trump’s America First foreign policy, reconfirm his commitments to alliances, and emphasize that the steps he takes on the international stage will have a direct impact for average Americans back home.
“When President Biden returns to Washington next week, we believe that we will be in a materially stronger position to manage the major threats and challenges this country faces: COVID, climate, China, cyber, Russia, and shaping the rules of trade and technology for the future,” Sullivan said before the trip.
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