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Biden in Europe: Live updates from President’s first overseas trip

Credit…Doug Mills / The New York Times

President Biden, on his first overseas trip since taking office, arrives in Europe today with a big agenda: to reassure allies that the hostility of the Trump years was a momentary aberration of US policy, get them to adopt coordinated policies on Russia, China, global warming and the coronavirus, then confront Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

It would be a great set of challenges in the easier times. These are not the times.

Mr Biden is fighting to continue his national agenda, including a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan, with ultra-thin Democratic control of Congress and determined Republican opposition. The United States is on track to emerge from the pandemic and recession, but much of the world remains in its grip, and health experts warn that no country is immune to the virus as long as not all countries are.

Mr. Putin, the Russian president, who has declared that a “new cold war” is underway, seems more determined than ever to undermine Western economies, alliances and political systems. Mr. Biden takes a much harsher rhetorical stance on Russia than his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, but the White House has limited power.

An increasingly authoritarian China is flexing its muscles commercially, diplomatically and militarily, and Mr. Biden sees this more of a long-term challenge than Russia. But it’s not clear how he might involve US allies in a strategy to change China’s behavior.

Mr Biden has made ambitious pledges on climate change, but other countries are skeptical of the strength and durability of the US commitment.

Above the trip is the specter of Mr. Trump, who has scorned and threatened traditional alliances, abandoned international agreements, started trade wars and displayed an affinity for autocratic rulers, including Mr. Putin.

But no matter how friendly the reception, European leaders are wary, having learned that what they once saw as steadfast US policies could suddenly change.

Mr Biden will travel this evening to Cornwall, the southwestern tip of England, where the annual summit of the Group of 7 Big and Rich Democracies will be held from Friday to Sunday. From Thursday, he will also hold one-on-one meetings with other G7 leaders, and on Sunday he will visit Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

On Monday, Biden will attend the NATO summit in Brussels and have bilateral meetings with NATO heads of government, and on Tuesday he will meet with leaders of the European Union, which many member countries also do. part of NATO.

He will meet Mr. Putin in Geneva on Wednesday, then return to Washington.

Biden in Europe: Live updates from President’s first overseas trip
Credit…Doug Mills / The New York Times

Meeting next week with European leaders, President Biden will attempt to rally a Western alliance shaken by four years of President Donald J. Trump, arguing that the United States is back and ready to take the lead.

Europeans wonder if this is true, or if Mr. Biden represents the last breath of old-fashioned internationalist American foreign policy.

As President, Mr. Trump, with his “America First” vision and isolationist and protectionist instincts, has denigrated and undone traditional relations and embraced autocrats like Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Mr. Biden arrives in Europe with considerable goodwill simply by not being Mr. Trump, determined to face what he calls an existential collision between democracies and autocracies. But at 78, the oldest president of the United States in history, he cannot escape lingering doubts about his sustainability or that of his policies.

Europeans have seen that one election can upend generations of bipartisan consensus in the United States in favor of Western alliances, and now they believe it can happen again.

Mr. Biden’s primary task is to provide the diplomatic serenity that eluded such gatherings during the Trump years. The White House maintains that stable U.S. diplomacy is back in earnest, although it cannot offer any guarantees beyond its tenure.

Mr Trump has hinted at a comeback, and even if it never materializes, his grip on the Republican Party remains strong, his popular views within the party and its lawmakers at a distance from Congress.

Just days before Mr. Biden’s trip, Republicans in Congress rejected the creation of a bipartisan commission to examine the Jan.6 riot on Capitol Hill. Incumbent Republican lawmakers are accepting Mr. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. And Democrats are faltering in their efforts to pass sweeping legislation to counter Republican attacks on state-level voting rights.

Many European leaders view the events in Washington with deep unease.

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

Biden in Europe: Live updates from President’s first overseas trip
Credit…Greg Baker / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

China and global warming are high on President Biden’s list of long-term global concerns. And as he travels to Europe on Wednesday for a week of summit meetings, US allies wonder if they are being asked to sign a containment policy in China, and if Mr. Biden can act on the climate?

While becoming increasingly repressive at home, China is expanding its commercial, military and political reach abroad – and its greenhouse gas emissions. Europeans largely don’t see China as the kind of growing threat Washington is making, but it’s an argument the United States is making headway on.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed an effort from Washington to ensure that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, does not win new contracts to install 5G cellular networks in Britain. U.S. officials have raised concerns that Huawei equipment could become a backdoor for Chinese government surveillance or communications control.

Some in Europe are following suit, but Biden’s aides said they felt taken aback when the European Union announced an investment deal with China days before Mr. Biden. This reflected fears that if the continent were drawn into the US-China rivalry, European businesses would suffer.

Mr Biden goes the other way: last week he signed an executive order prohibiting Americans from investing in Chinese companies linked to the country’s military or that sell technology used to quell dissent within and outside of China.

For the movement to be effective, however, the allies would have to join together. So far, few have expressed enthusiasm for the effort.

China, which now emits more greenhouse gases than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, is key to meeting ambitious climate change targets. Peter Betts, the former chief climate negotiator for Britain and the European Union, said the test for Mr Biden was whether he could lead other nations in a successful campaign to lobby on Beijing.

Four years ago, President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris climate agreement.

Mr Biden reverses that stance, pledging to cut U.S. emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. He also wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post ahead of the summit that with the United States back at the table, countries “have the opportunity to make ambitious progress.”

But world leaders have remained wary of the United States’ willingness to pass serious emissions legislation and keep its financial promises to poorer countries.

Biden in Europe: Live updates from President’s first overseas trip
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The plane that was to carry dozens of journalists to Europe to cover President Biden’s first trip abroad was on the runway, ready to take off.

The cicadas had other ideas.

Somehow, the flying bugs had filled the plane’s engines, pinning it to the ground and forcing Mr. Biden’s assistants to scramble to find another way to transport reporters to the plane. ‘foreign. What was supposed to be a 9 p.m. departure was delayed until 11 a.m. and then until 2.15 a.m.

Perhaps it was inevitable, with billions of cicadas flying across much of the eastern United States in recent weeks. In the nation’s capital, where a brood that emerges every 17 years is nearing its peak, they crawled up to the necks of television reporters, splashed car windshields and tangled in the hair of anyone braving the 90 degree swamp heat.

White House travel officials announced the bug’s malfunction to reporters gathered at the airport hotel, along with assurances that a new plane was heading to Washington from New York. A new pilot in Cleveland was due soon on the way – and the two, officials hoped, would safely pass through the cicada cloud, which was dense enough around Washington to be detected by weather radar.

Before leaving for Europe on Wednesday morning, President Biden had his own encounter with a cicada: he brushed one on his neck as he made his way to the airport.

“Watch out for the cicadas,” he reminded reporters before boarding Air Force One.

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