President Joe Biden on Wednesday set off on his first foreign trip since taking office, aiming to strengthen ties with European allies and vowing to project that strength to strategic rivals China and Russia.
Prior to boarding Air Force One, Biden told reporters at Joint Base Andrews that his goal will be “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and China that Europe and the United States are tight.”
Biden’s remarks build on a message he sought to drive home in an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend, when he laid out his priorities for the trip in more detail, including “confronting the harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia” while insisting that “the United States must lead the world from a position of strength.”
Biden also said he planned to unveil a global COVID-19 vaccination strategy, telling reporters, “I have one and I’ll be announcing it.” During the trip, Biden may face calls to do more to share U.S. vaccine supplies with other countries after an initial pledge of 20 million doses announced last week.
The president also said he intends to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin about cooperation on preventing cyberattacks, with the backdrop for those discussions being recent high-profile ransomware attacks that White House officials believe are linked to Russia-based cyber-criminals.
Biden’s first port of call will be Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, where the president is expected to deliver an address to U.S. Air Force personnel at the base. He will then head to the seaside village of St. Ives in Cornwall, where he will participate in the G7 summit, hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“As the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face,” Johnson said in a statement, promoting some of the group’s priorities like cancelling developing world debt and “our universal condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” which has strained relations between Moscow and the West.
The G7 meeting is expected to be dominated by vaccine diplomacy, trade, and an initiative for rebuilding infrastructure in the developing world, which U.S. officials see as a way to counter China’s efforts to spread its influence.
It is a point Biden expanded on in the op-ed, writing, “the world’s major democracies will be offering a high-standard alternative to China for upgrading physical, digital, and health infrastructure that is more resilient and supports global development.”
“As new technologies reshape our world in fundamental ways, exposing vulnerabilities like ransomware attacks and creating threats such as invasive AI-driven surveillance, the democracies of the world must together ensure that our values govern the use and development of these innovations—not the interests of autocrats,” Biden wrote.
After the G7 meeting, Biden will head to the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday, which will be followed by a high-profile meeting with Putin in Switzerland the following Wednesday. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that Biden hopes his G7 and NATO meetings will bolster a sense of allied unity ahead of his meeting with the Russian president.
While Sullivan said no major breakthroughs in U.S.-Russia relations are expected from the summit, he insisted there’s value in the two leaders meeting face-to-face, partly “so that we can make progress in arms control and other nuclear areas to reduce tension and instability in that aspect of the relationship” and partly “to look President Putin in the eye and say, ‘This is what America’s expectations are. This is what America stands for. This is what America is all about.’”
Ahead of his departure, Biden was asked whether he expects his meeting with Putin will lead to some accord on cybersecurity.
“Who knows at this point?” Biden said. “It’s going to be a subject of our discussion.”