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Biden urges unity in confronting global challenges at UNGA speech

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden says the world must work together as never before to face global challenges.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly for the first time as American head of state, Biden said “Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected as never before.”

He noted that the U.S. is “back at the table in international forums, especially the United Nations.”

That stance is in direct contrast to the “America First” doctrine of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

On the issue of military force, Biden said, “U.S. military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first. And it should not be used as an answer to every problem we see around the world.”

The annual U.N. event is an opportunity for the 193-member assembly to discuss challenges of regional and global importance.

Biden travelled to New York Monday evening for the in-person meeting of about 100 heads of state at U.N. headquarters. Following his speech Tuesday, he has a sideline meeting in New York with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and later in the day hosts British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for talks at the White House.

Last week, the three nations announced a security pact that would provide American nuclear submarine technology and British naval expertise to Australia to help the country counter threats in the Indo-Pacific region. Analysts widely see the move as an attempt to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Conflict with China

At the United Nations, Biden will also talk about his controversial decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which he has said is part of his administration’s focus on the real adversary: China. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the United States and China to avert what he said could be a potential Cold War, and he implored the two countries to fix their “completely dysfunctional” relationship.

“I wouldn’t agree with the characterization of the relationship,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, adding that Biden and his Chinese counterpart last week had a 90-minute conversation that was “candid, but it was certainly not elevated.”

She added: “Tomorrow the president will deliver a speech, as you all know, at the U.N. General Assembly, and he will make absolutely clear that he is not looking to pursue a future new Cold War with any country in the world.”

The senior Biden administration official said the president would visit those topics in his speech on Tuesday morning.

“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: COVID-19, climate change, emerging technologies, and rules of the road on trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure that is noncorrupt and (of) high standard, a modern approach to counterterrorism, and vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War,” he said.

Rare rift with ally

But Biden’s globalist, cooperative vision clashes with an awkward reality. On Friday, America’s oldest ally, France, recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, expressing anger over what the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called a “stab in the back” delivered by those two nations when their submarine deal nullified a nearly $70 billion French-Australian deal for conventional submarines.

Psaki said Biden will soon have a phone call with his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, who is not planning to travel to New York. She declined to say whether the Biden administration would be making a compensatory gesture to France.

Psaki sought to downplay the rift, which marks the first time France has withdrawn an ambassador.

“Re-establishing alliances don’t mean that you won’t have disagreements, or you won’t have disagreements about how to approach any particular issue in the world,” she said. “That is not the bar for having an alliance, an important partnership. That has never been and it is not currently.”

Le Drian told reporters at the United Nations Monday that there was “a crisis of trust” over the issue. The matter was not so much about breaking an industrial contract, he said, but “first and foremost, it is a matter about breaking the trust between allies.”

Later in the week, separate from the General Assembly meeting, Biden will host a summit on COVID-19, and will also meet with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Those two are members of the so-called “Quad,” a strategic dialogue that also includes Australia, which is seen as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence.

Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report. Chris Hannas contributed from Washington.

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