Biden meets with leaders of Australia, Iraq before departing UNGA

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President Biden on Tuesday met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and President Barham Salih of Iraq on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, following a speech in which he said the U.S. was scaling back military operations in favor of “relentless diplomacy.” 

The president’s meeting with Morrison comes amid fierce blowback from France to a defense pact announced last week between the U.S., U.K and Australia to counter China. 

“We have a big agenda to discuss today, starting with our partnership to advance our commitment for a free and open Indo-Pacific. This conversation I’m going to continue with Japan, Korea and India on Friday,” Biden said before his meeting with Morrison, referring to the Quad Leaders Summit with Australia and the other three countries.

“The United States has no closer and more reliable ally than Australia,” Biden said. 

The president said Australia and the U.S. are working together on issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and defending democracies. 

“The U.S. and Australia are working in lockstep on the priorities I laid out today in my speech to the United Nations,” he said. “I meant what I said. We are at an inflection point. Things are changing. Things are rapidly changing.”

In his first address to the UN earlier on Tuesday, Biden spoke about his efforts to rebuild alliances, renew commitments to multilateral organizations, and pleaded for collective action to confront COVID-19 and climate change.

In his meeting with Salih, the two leaders discussed deepening cooperation on diplomatic initiatives in the region.

Biden emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to long-term stability for Iraq and, together with Saleh, “reaffirmed their respect for Iraq’s democracy, rule of law, and efforts to hold credible and transparent elections this October,” the White House said in a statement.

The president noted that the Baghdad Regional Summit, held in August in an effort to ease regional tensions, and Iraq welcoming Pope Francis for a historic visit year were both an “important symbol of Iraq’s contributions to regional stability and interfaith tolerance.” 

The president departed New York this afternoon to return to the White House. He is set to meet with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson for another bilateral meeting, which will be held at the White House this evening.

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