Biden to face largest world stage of his tenure after crises with Afghanistan, France

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

Claiming it was blindsided, France was furious, and it seemed an unusual fight for Biden to pick, or obliviously trigger. France recalled its ambassadors to Washington and to Australia, accused Biden of being no better than Trump and cried betrayal.

In addition to losing out on a major military-sales contract, the French saw the U.S. teaming with Britain, which recently left the European Union, as a plot to undermine Paris' long-standing investment in the Indo-Pacific — at a time the EU is attempting to build up its own international diplomatic heft.

French comments were scathing.

"We can see that this is a return to the American fold and a form of accepted vassalization," French Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune said, according to Agence France Presse.

So Biden, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, may not find as much of a warm and welcoming reception at the U.N. this week as they may have at one time expected.

The General Assembly is an annual event that normally attracts dozens of world leaders in a ritual of keynote speeches, on-the-margin meetings and traffic gridlock in midtown Manhattan. Figures rarely seen in the U.S., like, once upon a time, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, might take the stage.

But last year, with the COVID pandemic, the event was reduced to a largely virtual event. This year is an attempt at a partial recovery, with "hybrid" conferences that will include leaders in person along with virtual participants.

Because of continuing COVID restrictions, however, the size of delegations will be severely restricted — bigger than last year but still much smaller than normal. About 100 countries are expected to have some sort of in-person representation, primarily at the level of foreign minister.


British Minister Boris Johnson will attend; France's Emmanuelle Macron will not, nor will Chinese President Xi Jinping.

New York City officials are demanding all attendees be vaccinated against COVID-19, which has proved to be a problem for countries like Russia, because U.S. authorities don't recognize its Sputnik vaccine. Brazil's pandemic-denier President Jair Bolsonaro, whose country faces among the world's highest death rates for the disease but who has dismissed COVID-19's gravity despite contracting it himself, vows to attend.

The new president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, is not expected to attend although he will address the assembly virtually. A representative delegation will be in New York. Iran and the United States, through European mediators, have been locked in negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which was sealed during the Obama administration but jettisoned by Trump.

Since Trump's withdrawal from the agreement, Iran has steadily begun violations by increasing enrichment of uranium and other steps that experts say put it closer to developing nuclear weapons.

Biden will host a summit on COVID-19 on Wednesday, which will include how to make vaccines available globally. This comes as his own country has failed to vaccinate many of its people who resist inoculation for sometimes politically motivated reasons.

Climate change and the disasters it wreaks are also centerpiece issues at the summit, and the U.S. delegation will be participating with Mexican and Central American officials in a conference on immigration, an issue that dogs the Biden administration, which has proved unable to stem the flow of people seeking to enter the U.S.

Thomas-Greenfield and other administration officials stressed that human rights would also be at the top of their agenda. She is participating in a series of conferences on the use of rape in warfare. The U.S. is attempting to win a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration abandoned three years ago, citing its purported bias against Israel.

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