President Biden arrived in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, kicking off his eight-day trip abroad by declaring that “the United States is back” and that the democracies of the world “are standing together.”
Speaking to U.S. troops at the Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base, Biden also had strong words for Russia President Vladimir Putin, whom he will meet with next week.
Biden said that he will meet with Putin “to let him know what I want him to know.” Biden said that while the U.S. wants a “stable and predictable relationship” with Russia, the U.S. “will respond in a robust and meaningful way if the Russian government engages in harmful activities.”
Biden will sit down with Putin in Geneva, after meeting with G-7 and then NATO allies. While it’s Biden’s first foreign trip as president, he is no stranger to the world stage, having met with many leaders over his political career, including as vice president and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Although the summit is happening in person, Biden noted that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over.
“We have to end COVID-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” he said. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face.”
Biden has said that he wants to use the trip to marshal a plan with other G7 nations to help end the pandemic around the world, and to that end he’s set to announce that the U.S. has bought 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to donate to COVAX, which is distributing vaccines to countries that cannot afford to buy enough shots, a source familiar with the deal confirmed to NPR’s Tamara Keith.
Laying out other issues on the trip’s agenda — what he called “critical national security issues” — Biden said nations need to “commit to ambitious climate action if we’re going to prevent the worst impacts of climate change,” and that “new technologies and norms of conduct in cyberspace” need to be established, including addressing “the growing threat of ransomware.”
Ransomware attacks — including the one that crippled the Colonial Pipeline in the U.S., and which federal officials say was carried out by a criminal entity in Russia — are becoming a growing national security threat. In speaking about the issue, Biden pointedly noted the “autocrats who are letting it happen.”
Biden also outlined a starkly different approach to NATO, the alliance that former President Donald Trump often disdained. Trump threatened to pull U.S. troops out of Germany, and focused most of his attention on getting NATO member nations to pay a greater share of the alliance’s costs.
Biden said he will make it clear that “the United States commitment to our NATO alliance in Article 5 is rock solid,” referring to the provision in which an attack on one member of the alliance is treated as an attack on all members.
Biden said that the U.S. is not seeking conflict with Russia, but that he will make clear “there are consequences for violating the sovereignty of democracies in the United States, in Europe and elsewhere.”
He repeated his assertion that “we’re at an inflection point in world history — the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel.”
Biden said “we have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” and that leaders “have to work harder than ever to prove that democracy can still deliver for our people.”
Biden, whose son Beau served overseas in the Delaware Army National Guard and died six years ago of cancer, thanked the U.S. troops stationed there. “We owe you. We’re so damn proud of you. So proud,” he said, his voice cracking.
“I only wish my major was here to thank you as well,” he said, wiping away a tear.
NPR’s Roberta Rampton contributed reporting.