Thin Middle East agenda accompanies Joe Biden’s first UNGA

US president is not scheduled to meet any regional leaders in New York but will tout ending war in Afghanistan in speech on Tuesday

US President Joe Biden will arrive in New York later on Monday to participate in the 76th UN General Assembly, where he will push his agenda of ending wars and boosting multilateral co-operation and intensive diplomacy.

Mr Biden’s trip to the UNGA, his first as president, stands in stark contrast with those of his predecessors. Gone will be Donald Trump’s confrontational language, Barack Obama’s reconciliatory approach and George W Bush’s emphasis on war on terror.

Instead, Mr Biden will be highlighting a foreign policy driven by domestic considerations that at the same time prioritises diplomacy.

On Monday night, the US president will meet Secretary General Antonio Guterres for their first in-person meeting. Mr Biden is then scheduled to address the UNGA early on Tuesday.

A senior US official said Mr Biden’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan will be the focus of his speech.

“The speech will centre on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time,” the official said.

He added that the new path will be defined by working with allies to solve problems that cannot be resolved through military force.

And on the issue of fighting terrorism, the US official said the president would signal a “modern approach".

The official pointed to the domestic themes that will be part of Mr Biden’s speech, including infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging technologies.

The US president will also address the subject of trade, emphasising that global commerce is a “vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War".

With the exception of Yemen, the US official did not mention any Middle Eastern issues on Mr Biden’s agenda. His announced bilateral meetings do not include any with regional leaders attending the UNGA, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iraqi President Barham Salih and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be meeting his regional counterparts in New York, including the foreign ministers of Turkey and Egypt, and he will host a Gulf Co-operation Council round-table on Thursday.

Reem Al Hashimi, UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation, is expected to attend that meeting, along with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and others.

Mr Biden will stay for one night in New York, where on Tuesday he will meet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Back in Washington, he will host British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday evening, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday.

The White House is also holding a Covid-19 summit on Wednesday, in which the administration will place “heavy emphasis on international institutions, the private sector, non-governmental organisations - all of the actors who collectively have the capacity to beat Covid-19,” a senior US official said.

The goal is “to end this pandemic much more rapidly than if we allow for things to unfold without the kind of focus, sustained energy and effort that is required".

On Monday, the US announced its plans to remove Covid-19 travel restrictions placed on the UK and EU. The move is likely to lower recent tension between Europe and the US over Afghanistan and the defence deal with Australia, which has angered French President Emmanuel Macron.

The White House said that Mr Biden has requested a phone call with his French counterpart.

“The president wants to communicate his desire to work closely with France in the Indo-Pacific and globally,” a senior US official said three days after Paris recalled its ambassador from Washington.

On Wednesday, Mr Blinken will meet the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK to address some of these concerns.

Updated: September 23rd 2021, 3:55 PM
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