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Biden aims to strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe, but challenges lie ahead

WASHINGTON – It shouldn’t be that hard to be an American leader visiting Europe for the first time after President Donald J. Trump.

But President Biden will face his own challenges when he leaves on Wednesday, especially as the United States grapples with a disruptive Russia and rising China while trying to rally and rally the shaken Western alliance out of the country. the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden, who will arrive for a series of summit meetings backed by a successful vaccination program and a recovering economy, will spend the next week arguing that America is back and ready to lead the West again in what he calls an existential collision between democracies and autocracies.

On the program, meetings in Great Britain with the leaders of the Group of 7, followed by visits to NATO and the European Union. On Mr. Biden’s last day, in Geneva, he will hold his first meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr Biden’s paramount task is to provide the diplomatic serenity that has eluded such gatherings for four years in which Mr Trump clamped down on long-standing relations with close allies, threatened to withdraw from NATO. and embraced Mr. Putin and other autocrats, admiring their strength.

But the goodwill Mr. Biden brings simply by not being Mr. Trump’s papers on lingering doubts about his sustainability, American reliability and the cost Europe will have to pay. At 78, is Mr. Biden the last breath of an old-fashioned internationalist foreign policy? Will Europe bear the cost of what increasingly looks like a new cold war with Russia? Is it requested to subscribe to a containment policy in China? And will Mr. Biden keep his climate promises?

These questions will loom as he discusses trade disagreements, new restrictions on investment and purchases in China, and its ever-evolving stance on a gas pipeline that will lead directly from Russia to Europe, bypassing China. Ukraine.

All along, Mr Biden will be faced with European leaders who are suspicious of the United States as they haven’t since 1945 and wonder where they are going.

“They saw the state of the Republican Party,” said Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. “They saw January 6. They know you might have another president in 2024.”

White House officials say stable US diplomacy is back for good, but of course they can’t offer any guarantees after January 2025. EU officials are following the political arguments raging in the US, and they note that Mr. Trump’s grip on his party is hardly weakening.

Days before Mr Biden left, Republicans in Congress rejected the creation of a bipartisan commission to examine the Capitol Riot. Republican lawmakers are accepting Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Democrats are faltering in their efforts to pass sweeping legislation to counter Republican attacks on state-level voting rights.

Through it all, Mr. Trump continues to hint at a political comeback four years from now.

“There is a concern about US policy,” said Ian Lesser, vice chairman of the German Marshall Fund in the United States. “Simply, what will happen during the midterm elections? Trumpism will prove to be more durable than Mr. Trump. What is the next step in American policy?

If the future of the United States is the long-term concern, how to deal with a disruptive Russia is the immediate agenda. No part of the trip will be more busy than a day-long meeting with Mr Putin.

Mr Biden called the meeting – the first since Mr Trump accepted Mr Putin’s denials of electoral interference at a summit in Helsinki, Finland three years ago – despite warnings from activists human rights that it would strengthen and embolden the Russian leader. . Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, noted that US presidents met their Soviet counterparts throughout the Cold War, and their Russian successors thereafter. But on Monday, he said Mr. Biden would warn Mr. Putin directly that without a change in behavior, “there will be answers.”

Yet veterans of the Washington-Moscow fight say disruption is Mr. Putin’s real superpower.

“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders will argue over a lot of things but keep the dialogue going.”

White House officials have said the president has no intention of trying to restore relations with Russia. After calling Mr Putin a ‘killer’ this year Mr Biden is clear on his opponent, they said: He sees Mr Putin more as a hardened mafia boss, ordering hits with the country’s supply of nerve agents , as a national leader. .

But Mr Biden is determined to put safeguards on the relationship, considering some cooperation, starting with the future of their nuclear arsenals.

But there is a realization in Europe that while Mr. Putin cherishes his growing arsenal, Russia’s nuclear capability is a strategic holdover from an era of conflict between the superpowers. In what Mr Putin recently called a new cold war with the United States, the weapons of choice are cyber weapons, ransomware used by gangs operating from Russian territory, and the ability to shake up neighbors like Ukraine by massing troops at the border.

Mr. Biden will adopt NATO and Article V of its charter, the section that commits every member of the alliance to view an armed attack on one as an armed attack on all. But what constitutes an armed attack in the modern age is less clear: a cyberattack like the SolarWinds hack that infiltrated corporate and government networks? The movement of mid-range missiles and Russian troops towards the border of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member?

Mr Biden’s associates say the key is for him to make it clear that he has seen Mr Putin’s bravado before and that he doesn’t mind.

“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and whose wife and brother are key associates for Mr. Biden. “You are not going to have this inexplicable reluctance of an American president to criticize a Russian president who runs a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t get that.

When Mr Biden defines the current struggle as “a battle between the usefulness of 21st century democracies and autocracies”, however, he appears to be more concerned with China’s attractiveness as a trading partner and source of technology than with Russian disturbances. And while Europeans largely don’t see China as the kind of growing technological, ideological and military threat Washington is making, it’s an argument Mr. Biden is starting to win.

The British have deployed the largest fleet of their Navy warships in the Pacific since the Falklands War almost 40 years ago. The idea is to reestablish at least a visiting presence in an area that was once part of his empire, with stops in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. But at the same time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed on to Washington’s effort – started by Mr Trump and accelerated by Mr Biden – to ensure that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, does not win new contracts for install cellular 5G. networks in Great Britain.

Some in Europe are following suit, but Biden aides said they felt taken aback last year when the European Union announced an investment deal with China days before the investiture of Mr. Biden. It was a reflection of fears that if the continent were drawn into the US-China rivalry, European companies would suffer the consequences, starting with the luxury auto industry in Germany.

The future of the deal is unclear, but Mr Biden goes the other way: last week he signed an executive order banning Americans from investing in Chinese companies linked to the country’s military or to those who sell surveillance technologies used to suppress dissent or religious minorities, both inside and outside China. But to be effective, the allies would have to join; so far, few have expressed enthusiasm for the effort.

Mr Biden may be able to convince the skeptics with his endorsement of the goal of tackling climate change, although he will question himself as to whether he is doing enough.

Four years ago, at Mr. Trump’s first G7 meeting, six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate agreement while the United States said it was “not able to join the consensus “.

Mr Biden reverses that stance, pledging to cut U.S. emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade and writing in an op-ed in the Washington Post ahead of the summit with the States – United back at the table, countries “have the opportunity to achieve ambitious progress”.

But world leaders have said they remain wary of the United States’ willingness to pass serious legislation to curb its emissions and keep its financial pledges to poorer countries.

“They showed the right approach, not necessarily at the scale they could,” said Graça Machel, former Minister of Education and Culture of Mozambique.

China, which emits more than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, is key to meeting ambitious climate goals. Peter Betts, the former senior climate negotiator for Britain and the European Union, said the test for Mr Biden was whether he could lead the G7 countries in a successful lobbying campaign.

China, he said, “cares what the developing world thinks.”

Lisa Friedman contributed reports.

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