June 16. 2021. 7:43

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Biden defends plan to meet Putin during first foreign trip as president

Police patrol the waters at St Ives harbour, Cornwall, ahead of Friday’s G7 summit. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire


US president Joe Biden is due to embark on the first foreign trip of his presidency on Wednesday, as he leaves Washington for a week-long trip to Europe.

Mr Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, are scheduled to fly to the Royal Air Force base in Mildenhall, Suffolk on Wednesday. They will meet with US air force personnel and their families before travelling on to Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit. The US president is due to meet with British prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday ahead of the summit of leaders on Friday.

Following the G7, the president will travel to Brussels for a Nato summit on Monday, followed by an EU-US summit on Tuesday. On Wednesday, on the final leg of his trip, he will meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.

Writing in the Washington Post at the weekend, Mr Biden said that the visit would examine how democracies can come together and deliver “real results for our people in a rapidly changing world”.

“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realising America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.”

Commitment

Amid some criticism of his decision to meet Mr Putin in person, the president said that the US “does not seek conflict” with Russia but will “not hesitate to respond to future harmful activities”. He also underlined the commitment of the US “to stand up for human rights and dignity”.

“When we meet, I will again underscore the commitment of the United States, Europe and like-minded democracies to stand up for human rights and dignity,” he said, noting that the meeting will take place after high-level discussions with America’s allies and friends “who see the world through the same lens as the United States, and with whom we have renewed our connections and shared purpose”.

US vice-president Kamala Harris addresses a joint news conference with Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala City on Monday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/New York Times

Mr Biden will be accompanied by an entourage of officials, advisers and journalists, including secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan. Among the issues expected to be raised during Mr Biden’s bilateral meeting with the British prime minister is the ongoing impasse over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Restrictions

The US is also facing pressure from both the UK and the EU to relax restrictions on travellers from the European Union, following the decision by most European countries to allow American visitors to travel to Europe this summer.

Speaking on the eve of his visit, press secretary Jen Psaki said that Mr Biden would build on his decades-long experience in international affairs. “He has known a number of these leaders for decades, including president Putin,” she said. “This is an important opportunity for him to see them in person. There’s nothing like face-to-face diplomacy.”

Meanwhile, vice-president Kamala Harris wrapped up her first official trip abroad as vice-president, concluding a three-day visit to Central America and Mexico. Speaking after a meeting with Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei, Ms Harris discouraged Guatemalans from coming to America. “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come,” she said. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”