Five things to watch as Biden heads to the UN

President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday for the first time as president as world leaders gather in New York City this week.

The meeting comes as Biden faces outrage from France over a new submarine deal, looming safety concerns over COVID-19 and global vaccine rates and questions about the U.S. role in the world after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Here are five things to watch as Biden addresses and meets with his counterparts.

ADVERTISEMENT

Do France tensions carry over

The Biden administration set off a feud with one of its closest allies last week when it announced a trilateral partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia on nuclear-powered submarines.

The announcement infuriated the French, who withdrew their ambassadors from the United States and Australia after the new deal scuttled their own $66 billion deal with Australia.

President Biden has requested a phone call with French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronMacron tells UK to 'get serious' on migrant crisis amid fresh tensions Cities prep security plans for large holiday crowds Harris's communications director to depart next month MORE, a senior administration official said Monday, but there was not one officially scheduled. Macron is not attending this week’s U.N. gathering in-person.

“The president wants to communicate his desire to work closely with France in the Indo-Pacific and globally and to talk about specific practical measures that we can undertake together,” the Biden official said. “We understand the French’s position, we don’t share their view in terms of how this all developed.”

The focus of the call will be about “reaffirming” the U.S. commitment to its partnership with France. But the administration has no intention of pulling back from the submarine deal.

Biden pledged during the 2020 campaign to restore allies’ faith in U.S. leadership, but the major rift with France will prove to be a test of that effort. French officials have described the move as something former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE would have done.

ADVERTISEMENT

How does COVID-19 loom over the event

This week will mark the first time in two years world leaders will gather in-person for UNGA after last year’s event was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City health officials said ahead of the general assembly that delegates must show proof of vaccination to enter the general assembly hall. But the policy will be tested by the likes of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who is open about his refusal to take the vaccine. He tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiThe massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) Russian military buildup puts Washington on edge White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season MORE said officials were taking precautions to ensure Biden’s safety in mingling with other leaders who may not be vaccinated or who have had COVID-19, but that there were no plans to change his schedule.

Biden has opted to make the global pandemic response a major piece of the week’s meetings. He will convene world leaders in a virtual COVID-19 summit on Wednesday, and an administration official hinted that the president will announce new commitments to donating vaccine supply to other nations.

The summit comes as some foreign leaders and global entities urge the United States to hold off on offering booster shots to its own population while some countries are still struggling to get their own people a first dose.

Biden is expected to call for global cooperation during Wednesday’s summit, stressing the need for an “all hands on deck effort that can end this pandemic much more rapidly than if we allow things to unfold without the sustained focus and energy that is required,” a senior administration official said.

The summit also follows the administration’s announcement that it will ease restrictions on fully vaccinated international visitors traveling to the United States in November. The travelers will have to show proof of vaccination before boarding a U.S.-bound airline and show proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours before flying.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he is “delighted” that Biden “is reinstating transatlantic travel so fully vaccinated UK nationals can visit the USA,” calling the move “a fantastic boost for business and trade.”

Do leaders announce any new climate initiatives

President Biden has accelerated his efforts to combat climate change, domestically through pushing his economic agenda and internationally through engagements with world leaders and by rejoining the Paris Climate Accords.

“If you look at the most significant challenges, the highest priority issues facing the world today, you see the United States has been deeply engaged with allies and partners,” he said last week.

The Quad Leaders Summit on Friday, which includes Australia, India and Japan, will largely focus on climate change, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber, and infrastructure. The first-ever in-person summit will be hosted by Biden at the White House.

The president virtually convened a dozen world leaders last week for the Major Economies Forum, which was started during the Obama administration to enhance dialogue between major economies on climate.

ADVERTISEMENT

And, Biden will have another chance to lead on climate change and get commitments from other global leaders in just over a month. World leaders will convene at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on Oct. 31.

Erica Barks-Ruggles, a State Department official in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, told reporters on Monday that Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenAt least 20 Sudan troops dead after clash on Ethiopia border Germany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE and other officials will be pushing international leaders “to make ambitious commitments to combat climate change.”

“The United States is leading by example. We are committed to significantly reducing emissions and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, as has been previously announced. We will be strongly encouraging other countries to commit to keeping the goal – keeping to the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Barks-Ruggles said.

What is the Afghanistan fallout?

The spotlight will be on Biden on the world stage when it comes to the situation in Afghanistan, following the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from the country.

Biden will attend a meeting focused on Afghanistan on Wednesday and White House officials said Monday that the U.S. is committed to making sure the United Nations and partners deliver humanitarian assistance to the country. It said the U.S. is also working with other countries to ensure the Taliban lives up to their commitments.

The summit follows the Pentagon on Friday confirming that a drone strike in Kabul killed 10 civilians when it mistook a civilian vehicle for an ISIS-K threat. U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie called the strike “a tragic mistake” and said those who died were likely not associated with ISIS-K or a direct threat to the U.S.

ADVERTISEMENT

British officials reacted with outrage amid the chaos of getting allied forces out of Afghanistan once the U.S. committed to getting its military out of the country by Aug. 31, and other allies griped that the Biden administration was acting unilaterally.

The president will seek to turn the page to common challenges like China, the pandemic and climate change. A senior administration official said Biden’s main address on Tuesday “will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy.”

Biden looks for reset on foreign policy priorities

Biden will participate in a number of solo meetings this week that reflect the White House’s efforts to solidify new alliances in a bid to pivot its foreign policy toward taking on China.

Biden will host Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide while they are in the U.S. for the United Nations meeting.

The president’s meeting with Modi is his first in-person with the leader. They are expected to discuss steps the two countries can take towards finding a global solution to COVID-19, as well as actions to address the climate crisis, counter terrorism, and the situation in Afghanistan.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres called on the U.S. and China to restore their relationship, calling it “completely dysfunctional” in a recent interview with the Associated Press. He said the two countries should be cooperating on climate and negotiating on trade and technology issues.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Unfortunately, today we only have confrontation,” Gutterres said. “We need to re-establish a functional relationship between the two powers.” 

Psaki on Monday told reporters the president will make “absolutely clear” he is not interested in a new Cold War when asked about the Gutterres interview.

A senior administration official shrugged off the suggestion that Biden has hit a rough patch in foreign policy given the Afghanistan withdrawal and tensions with France.

“If you look at the totality of the Biden foreign policy of the ways in which we have worked on the big issues and done so very much in coordination, consultation and common action with allies and partners, and then you look at the months ahead and what’s on the docket and the trajectory we are setting for ourselves, the president feels very good about the path forward,” the official said.