On Thursday, President Joe Biden addressed the State Department on challenges posed by Russia and China, re-engaging alliances around the world, and domestic issues while criticizing U.S. policies in the last four years under President Donald Trump.
The U.S. and its allies
Without specifically naming the Trump administration, Biden said he has also spoken with leaders from Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia “to begin re-forming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscles of democratic alliances that have atrophied from four years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse.”
Along with working with allies, Biden said his administration has also worked to engage “our adversaries and our competitors.” He announced the U.S. and Russia had agreed to a five-year extension of the New START treaty, which governs nuclear arms reduction methods.
“At the same time, I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyber attacks, poisoning its citizens, are over,” Biden said.
During the election cycle, Biden frequently criticized Trump as being too soft on Russian aggression. Trump defended his position on Russia and pointed to increased sanctions against Russia during his administration.
Addressing China, Biden said the U.S. would “confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action, to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance.” Biden then said, “But we are ready to work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interests to do so.”
“We will compete from a position of strength, by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost,” Biden continued. “That’s why we’ve moved quickly to begin restoring American engagement internationally, to earn back our leadership position, and to catalyze global action on shared challenges.”
As Biden concluded his speech, he shifted focus to more domestic issues, such as immigration and refugee policies.
Biden announced an executive order to raise the number of annual U.S. refugee admissions up to 125,000. Under Trump, the number of refugee admissions fell to about 15,000.
“Today, I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need,” Biden said. “It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged.”
Biden also said he issued a memo throughout the executive branch to “reinvogirate our leadership on LGBTQIA issues.”
He als noted his overturning of a ban on transgendered troops in the military, and a ban on travel to the U.S. from several countries labeled as “terror-haven’, which Biden described as a “Muslim ban.”
Biden said domestic policies are important for foreign policy, because when meeting with other nations “we will be a much more credible partner because of these efforts to shore up our own foundations.”
Biden went on to tout his decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump withdrew from, and said he would host climate leaders in a summit to address climate issues on Earth Day.
“America must lead in the face of this existential threat,” Biden said of climate change.
Biden noted his administration had also reengaged with the World Health Organization (WHO), which the Trump administration withdrew from the organization citing its close ties with China during the global coronavirus outbreak and delays in information about the virus.
Addressing allies of the U.S. Biden said he was stopping a Trump-era order to withdrew troops from Germany.
Under Trump, the U.S. repeatedly pressured NATO allies to meet their defense spending obligations under the alliance. In July, the Trump administration pulled around 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany. At the time, Trump said the move is “paying a very small fraction of what they are supposed to be paying” and that they have had a “tremendous delinquency” on their NATO payments.
Trump also pressured South Korea to reach a new defense cost-sharing agreement, under the contention that it can pay more to host U.S. troops in the country. A troop cut from South Korea was reportedly proposed as one option to adjust the U.S. defense costs in the country.
During his remarks, Biden addressed a recent military coup in Burma, in which the country’s military arrested State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials in the country.
“There can be no doubt, in a Democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” Biden said of the situation in Burma.
The Yemen Civil War
Biden also announced Thursday that he was stopping U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of Arab nations supporting the Yemeni government in its civil war against the Houthi rebels. The conflict has been ongoing since 2014 and the U.S. has provided support for the Saudi-led operation, as far back as 2015. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. continued to send weapon shipments to Saudi Arabia, despite opposition from Congress.
“I’ve asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels and restore long-dormant peace talks,” Biden said Thursday.
Biden said to underscore the U.S. commitment to peace in Yemen he is suspending all U.S. support for offensive operations in the conflict, “including relavant arms sales.”
In his final weeks in office, the Trump administration approved the sale of about 3,000 precision-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) to Saudi Arabia. The Biden administration has temporarily halted the arms sales amid a review process.
Biden said while suspending support for offensive operations, the U.S. will continue to provide support for Saudi Arabia to defend against missile and drone strikes and other threats from “Iranian-supplied forces.” He said the U.S. will continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its territorial sovereignty and its people.
Biden said, “We must meet this new moment of accelerating global challenges — from a pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation — challenges that will only be solved by nations working together in common cause. That must start with diplomacy, rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values. Defending freedom. Championing opportunity. Upholding universal rights. Respecting the rule of law. Treating every person with dignity.”