Biden does not expect US troops to stay in Afghanistan to 2022

US president says America is 'not seeking confrontation' with China but will hold it accountable

US President Joe Biden addressed the war in Afghanistan, “stiff competition” with China, and North Korea in his hour-long first press conference.

Mr Biden committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan, America's longest war, but not to the May 1 deadline that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had set.

“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline just in terms of tactical reasons," he said. "It’s hard to get those troops out."

The US has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan but is looking at a political settlement between the Taliban and the government in Kabul that would allow them to leave.

Washington has also been holding talks on planning such a withdrawal with its Nato allies who have troops in the country.

“We have been meeting with our allies, those other nations, Nato allies that have troops in Afghanistan as well, and if we leave, we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way,” Mr Biden said.

“It’s not my intention to stay there for a long time. We will leave, the question is when we leave.”

He said he did not expect American troops to be in the country by 2022.

“I cannot picture that being the case," he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has kept Zalmay Khalilzad, appointed under Mr Trump, as the US special representative to Afghanistan and has continued the former administration's policy of engaging with different parties, including the Taliban in Doha, to reach a settlement.

Mr Biden spoke of tough competition with China, but stressed Washington was not after confrontation with its geopolitical rival, which he said was seeking world domination.

China’s “overall goal”, he said, was to be the “the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world".

“I don’t criticise them for the goal … [but] that’s not going to happen on my watch,” Mr Biden said.

"In order to deal with these things, we're going to hold China accountable, to follow the rules, whether it relates to the South China Sea, North China Sea, agreements made on Taiwan, or a whole range of things," he said.

He said he had known Chinese President Xi Jinping for a long time.

“He doesn’t have a democratic – with a small ‘d’ – bone in his body but he’s a smart, smart guy,” Mr Biden said.

"I predict to you, your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral theses on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy.

"That is what is at stake, not just in China.”

He and Mr Xi spoke for two hours by phone in February and are expected to meet online in April during the global climate summit.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden called North Korea his top foreign policy issue.

He said he shared former president Barack Obama's view that developments in North Korea were something to watch.

Pyongyang test-launched missiles on Wednesday and Sunday.

"We’re consulting with our allies and partners and there will be responses," Mr Biden said. "If they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly."

He did not rule out diplomacy with North Korea, but said it depended on Pyongyang's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons.

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