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Here are the issues America's allies want U.S. to deliver on – PBS NewsHour

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President Joe Biden on Tuesday delivered his first speech to the United Nations as part of its annual general assembly. Biden touted diplomacy and the endurance of democracy as he faces tensions with old allies, and global challenges, like COVID and climate change. Nick Schifrin reports from New York, and white house correspondent Yamiche Alcindor joins with more from the White House north lawn.
Judy Woodruff:
President Biden today delivered his first speech to the United Nations as part of its annual General Assembly. Most world leaders are back in person this year, after last year’s largely virtual event.
Mr. Biden touted diplomacy and the endurance of democracy, as he faces tensions with old allies and global challenges like COVID and climate change.
Nick Schifrin is in New York tonight.
Nick Schifrin:
In the largest international summit in two years, President Biden said he was launching a new era of American diplomacy.
President Joe Biden:
I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.
As we look ahead, we will lead, on all the greatest challenges of our time, from COVID to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights. But we will not go it alone.
Nick Schifrin :
And the president tried to reassure a skeptical world that American democracy was reliable.
President Joe Biden :
The authoritarians of the world may seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong. The truth is, the democratic world is everywhere. Democracy remains the best tool we have to unleash our full human potential.
Nick Schifrin :
But, today, the decidedly undemocratic Taliban control Afghanistan, and many senior Western Europeans say the U.S. isn’t listening to its allies over Afghanistan, COVID vaccine intellectual property, Trump era tariffs that are still in place, and last week’s announcement the U.S. and U.K. would provide nuclear-propelled submarines to Australia.
Yesterday, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Biden’s policy was no different than Trump’s America first.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Foreign Minister (through translator):
We thought unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality, and not respecting your partner was part of the past. But it continues. And contrary to everything that is being said openly and in public, this is what is surprising and shocking.
Nick Schifrin :
American officials believe the dispute will blow over. And, today, President Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to reassure Europe.
Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister:
We share so many like-minded interests.
Nick Schifrin :
Those interests are increasingly focused on China. The U.S. sees China’s military modernization, technological expansion, and predatory trade practices as the West’s preeminent challenge.
Today, President Biden never mentioned China, but it was the speech’s subtext.
President Joe Biden :
We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones. But we’re not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs.
Nick Schifrin :
The U.S. seeks to collaborate with China over climate change.
Today, President Biden doubled to $11 billion the U.S. contribution to developing countries to become more resilient and develop green energy. But China has largely rebuffed U.S. efforts to collaborate. On Iran, the Islamic Republic has broken through many of the restrictions set by the Iran nuclear deal, and the U.K. says Iran has never been this close to having the ability to develop nuclear weapons.
Today, President Biden reiterated the U.S.’ willingness to drop sanctions if Iran comes back into compliance. But Iran’s uninterested in resuming stalled talks in Geneva until the U.S. takes unilateral moves, newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi said today via video.
Ebrahim Rasisi, Iranian President (through translator) :
The United States has not yet discharged its obligation, which is lifting sanctions. It has encroached upon the agreement, withdrawn from it, and levied even more sanctions on our people.
Nick Schifrin :
For much of the day, the theme was unity to fight COVID and climate. But U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns, the world is failing to unite.
Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General:
COVID and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet. Yet, instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead end to destruction.
Judy Woodruff :
And with me now from just outside the United Nations is our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, along and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor. She’s at the North Lawn.
So, Nick, as you point out, it wasn’t just President Biden. There were dozens of world leaders who spoke today. Give us a sense of some of the broader themes that ran through the day.
Nick Schifrin :
Well, those themes really point to what you heard from Antonio Guterres there at the end, that the world wants, indeed, needs unity over COVID and climate.
Without drastic change, global warming will become irreversible, what Guterres called today a hellscape. And only 4 percent of Africa is vaccinated.
Now, Biden tailored to some of his speech to those worldwide concerns, especially that part of the speech when he gave that specific dollar amount that the U.S. would give to developing countries for climate adaptation.
Part of addressing climate, of course, is the U.S. and China working together. You saw the president not mentioning China by name. And Xi Jinping spoke as well and really pulled his punches that he usually throws against the U.S.
But the rift, Judy, is very real between the U.S. and France. And President Biden tonight still does not have confirmation that he will be able to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron.
Finally, Judy, one last point. U.N. watchers say that this Assembly was actually relatively normal. Delegations were able to interact and meet with each other.
Now, where I am is New York City. There is a vaccine mandate. Over to my right, past those gates, is international territory. There is no vaccine mandate there.
And we want to show you a photo. Jair Bolsonaro, proudly unvaccinated, spoke first this morning, but because he is unvaccinated in New York City, he is not able to go into that restaurant to enjoy his New York slice of pizza.
Judy Woodruff :
Ah, an interesting side note.
And, Yamiche, to you, this was President Biden’s first appearance at the U.N. after four years of former President Trump. How did President Biden, in a sense, try to usher in his own world view, coming after his predecessor?
Yamiche Alcinor:
Well, President Biden in his first appearance before the U.N. as a president in this speech was really trying to turn the page away from the Trump era and toward his vision of the world.
Now, Nick just mentioned that it’s normal, it was seen as normal by U.N. watchers. That is not any way — that any way that someone would describe the U.N.s that former President Trump had gone to.
Covering those over the years, you saw allies, as well as opponents of the U.S. really being angry at the fact that the president, former President Trump, would just say things that were outlandish. At one point, he was laughed at by the U.N. during his speech when he talked about the idea that he had accomplished more than any other administration in U.S. history.
Today, what you saw was the president, President Biden, really doubling down on this idea of ending endless wars and really ushering in this idea of diplomacy. He said that there should not be violence and instead there should be political negotiations.
He also talked about the dignity of people and helping nations that are less than the United States. The complicating issue here, though, is that he faces a number of domestic and foreign challenges, including those that welcomed him right when he got back to the White House today, including the migrant situation on the border with the Haitian migrants.
There are a lot of people who are still trying to figure out what happened with those agents using horse reins against migrants. And at the White House tonight, there are a lot of officials who are talking about it and saying that the DHS is going to have an investigation into that.
Judy Woodruff :
And, Yamiche, we know something else President Biden did when he got back to the White House, and that was a meeting with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
What do we know about how that went?
Yamiche Alcinor:
Reporters were in that meeting very quickly.
And the prime minister of the U.K. and President Biden, they essentially talked about trade, talked about the idea of the president really being into the idea of fighting climate change. So, it was a very, very friendly conversation. And you saw the two leaders really try to usher in this idea that the U.K. and U.S. are on the same page.
Judy Woodruff :
And back to you, Nick.
We know it today is just the kickoff of a full week of meetings. Tell us — give us a sense of what else to expect this week.
Nick Schifrin :
Yes, there are two meetings this week that administration officials say will prove American indispensable leadership.
On Friday, President Biden hosts the Quad. That’s Japan, U.S., India and — the United States — for the first time in person at the White House. It is the example of what U.S. officials want to see in the future alliance to take on China, dynamic alliance that’s mostly diplomatic, but also be used for soft power, including vaccine diplomacy.
And, tomorrow, there is a virtual COVID summit that the president will lead. I have obtained the draft goals for that summit. It is to vaccinate 70 percent of the world within one year. It requires an acceleration of production, delivery and a lot of money that doesn’t exist today.
Also, ensuring oxygen supply, testing, therapeutics, PPE all over the world, and the creation of a global health fund for the next pandemic. Judy, it is these two meetings that will prove whether the rhetoric of global — of global unity that you heard today gets translated into action.
Judy Woodruff :
And the issues don’t get any more important than these.
Nick Schifrin, reporting from outside the United Nations, Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, thank you both.
Nick Schifrin :
Thank you.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour’s foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series “Inside Putin’s Russia” won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club’s Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.

Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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