President Joe Biden on Wednesday embarked on his first overseas trip since taking office. As part of his European tour, he will attend the G7 and NATO summits and meet with EU leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Before boarding his presidential plane, Biden told reporters that the purpose of his trip is to let Putin and China know that Europe and the United States are still close and that the G7 will act.
Asked whether any agreement with Putin on cyberattacks was possible, Biden said: “Who knows? We know this topic will be discussed.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking Tuesday about Biden’s upcoming trip, said: “He’s been preparing for this for 50 years. He’s been on the world stage. He’s known some of these leaders for decades, including President Putin and a number of leaders he will meet with at NATO and G-7 summits. This is an important opportunity for him to see them in person. There is nothing more important in diplomacy than personal interaction.”
The trip will culminate in Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin next Wednesday in Geneva. The U.S. president will need to find the fine line between issuing a clear warning against malicious military and political actions and preventing an already strained relationship from escalating.
“In phone conversations with President Putin, I have been clear and straightforward. The United States does not seek conflict. We want a stable and predictable relationship in which we can work with Russia on issues such as strategic stability and arms control,” Biden wrote.
“At the same time, I have taken meaningful action in response to behavior that violates U.S. sovereignty, including interference in our democratic elections. And President Putin knows that I will not hesitate to respond to future malicious actions. When we meet, I will reiterate the commitment of the United States, Europe and the democracies to fight for human rights and dignity,” he continued.
The White House notes that the administration does not expect concrete results from the summit.
“We don’t think the point of the U.S.-Russia summits is to get results, because really meaningful results will probably have to wait a long time,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday.
During the trip, Biden intends to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to allies and international alliances, including NATO.
“This trip is intended to underscore America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners and to demonstrate the ability of democracies to both meet the challenges and contain the threats of this new era,” he wrote in his Sunday op-ed.
He also assured that the U.S. remains unwavering in its commitment to collective defense and to ensuring “the strength of the alliance in the face of all challenges, including threats such as cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.”
Another important topic, confronting challenges from China.
“Our focus will be on market democracies, not China or anyone else, writing the rules of the 21st century in trade and technology,” Biden said.
Because the G-7 summit will be held in Cornwall, the trip also gives Biden an opportunity to emphasize the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain.
Biden will become the 12th U.S. president to meet with Queen Elizabeth.
The president’s trip comes amid a difficult domestic political environment in the United States: on Tuesday, Biden broke off talks on an infrastructure plan with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who was the Republican Party’s chief negotiator in the Senate. The parties remain sharply divided on a number of key issues.
Instead, the president will continue discussions with a bipartisan group of senators who are preparing a counterproposal of about $880 billion for infrastructure. That’s significantly less than what Biden is proposing.
The president’s departure could cloud the chances of reaching a deal, but Psaki assured that meetings with foreign leaders would not prevent the president from continuing his efforts to push the infrastructure plan forward. “Any administration knows how to keep working on domestic policy issues while traveling abroad,” she said Monday.