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Biden addresses UN General Assembly amid challenges of Covid, climate change and China

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the United States, September 21, 2021.

Edouard Munoz | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden defended his decision to end the United States’ war in Afghanistan in his first address to the United Nations on Tuesday, saying the move would allow the United States to look to other global challenges such than the Covid pandemic, climate change and an ambitious China.

Biden’s speech to the 193-member body, his first since taking office in January, comes as he struggles to rebuild alliances that collapsed under his predecessor’s reign and reclaim a position of world leader. He addressed a meeting of the 76th United Nations General Assembly which was reduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the majority of leaders delivering prerecorded remarks.

“As the United States focuses on the priorities and regions like the Indo-Pacific that have the most impact today and tomorrow, we will do so with our allies and partners through the cooperation of multilateral institutions like the United Nations to amplify our strength and speed, ”Biden said from the Green Speaker’s podium.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes and devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future,” the president said.

This collective future is strained by a lingering pandemic, uncertainties of climate change, as well as growing tensions not only with China, but within the NATO alliance itself. The UK-US decision last week to strike a military deal with Australia left France on the sidelines, creating a diplomatic row.

US President Joe Biden in a virtual press conference with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on September 15, 2021. The three leaders announced a new security partnership to boost stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

Still, Biden tried to set a positive tone. “As we close this period of relentless warfare, we usher in a new era of relentless diplomacy,” Biden said.

Biden explained that US military might “must be our tool of last resort, not our first. It should not be used as an answer to all the problems we see in the world.”

Under Biden’s eye, the withdrawal of around 3,000 American troops from Afghanistan at the end of the United States’ longest war ended in disaster as the Taliban made a succession of shocking gains over the battlefield. Despite being largely outnumbered by the Afghan army, which has long been assisted by US coalition and NATO forces, the Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15.

Biden ordered the deployment of thousands of US troops to Kabul to help evacuate US Embassy staff and secure the airport perimeter. Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans swarmed the airport tarmac, desperate to flee the Taliban regime.

U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide trained evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, August 21, 2021.

United States Air Force | Reuters

The Biden administration has since blamed the Trump administration for the precipitous exit of the United States from the country and the rapid collapse of the Afghan national government.

Last week Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers: “We inherited a deadline; we didn’t inherit a plan, ”referring to Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban to leave the country. “There had not been a single interview under the Special Immigrant Visa program in Kabul for nine months, dating back to March 2020. The program was essentially stalled.”

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war. We made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan,” Blinken said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee reviewing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 14, 2021.

Evelyne Hockstein | Reuters

In another blunder, the Pentagon admitted last week that a U.S. drone strike in Kabul amid evacuation efforts killed up to 10 civilians, including up to seven children.

The strike follows a suicide bombing by the terrorist group ISIS-K that killed 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghans near Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Pentagon initially said the strike, which was launched on August 29, killed two ISIS-K fighters suspected of being involved in planning attacks on US forces in Kabul.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, describing the civilian deaths as a “horrible mistake” ordered a review to determine whether “accountability measures” need to be taken and procedures changed.

Biden tried to draw attention to future security measures as he addressed the assembly, saying the United States would focus on counterterrorism with strategic precision while avoiding threats. major combat initiatives.

“I am here today for the first time in 20 years that the United States is not at war. We have turned the page,” Biden said.

“All of our nation’s unmatched strength, energy, commitment, will and resources are now focused on what lies ahead. Not what was behind.”

“We are, in my opinion, at an inflection point in history”

Biden called on world leaders to tackle the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 4.5 million people.

“We have lost so much because of this devastating pandemic,” Biden said. “Our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will depend on our ability to recognize our common humanity and act together,” he said, urging leaders to rally their citizens to get the coronavirus vaccine.

“Are we going to work together to save lives, defeat Covid-19 everywhere and take the necessary steps to prepare for the next pandemic? Biden asked. “Or will we fail to exploit the tools at our disposal as the more virulent and dangerous variants take hold?” “

The President reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to end the pandemic, saying his administration has invested more than $ 15 billion in the global response to Covid-19.

“We have shipped over 160 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” he said.

Allies are “essential and central” to America’s prosperity

Biden had previously pledged to mend alliances through diplomacy and restore Washington’s leadership position on the world stage after years of “America First” policies led by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

“Over the past eight months, I have made it a priority to rebuild our alliances, revitalize our partnerships, and recognize that they are essential and essential to America’s enduring security and prosperity. “Biden said at the meeting on Tuesday.

“We will lead not only for the example of our power but, God willing, with the power of our example,” he added.

His remarks come less than a week after his administration infuriated France, the United States’ oldest ally.

Biden on Wednesday announced a new security partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia aimed at countering China.

The AUKUS agreement ushered in a new arms pact that effectively ended one of France’s biggest military contracts.

This decision reopened old wounds between Washington and Paris and led French President Emmanuel Macron to recall his ambassadors to the United States and Australia.

French officials criticized Biden’s decision, calling it “betrayal” and “a stab in the back”.

French President Emmanuel Macron makes a gesture during a meeting as part of the “Grand National Debate” on March 7, 2019, in Gréoux-les-Bains, in south-eastern France.

Christophe Simon | AFP | Getty Images

A White House official said Monday that Biden had requested to speak with Macron, but the French president has yet to accept such a call.

“President Biden has asked to be able to speak with President Macron to talk about the way forward, to talk about his deep commitment to the United States’ alliance with France, an alliance that promotes security, stability and peace. prosperity in the world for decades, ”he added. said the official.

“We understand the French position. We do not share their point of view on how it all developed, but we understand their position. And we will continue to engage in the coming days on this subject,” added the responsible.

“The president is very pleased with the way ahead and how US foreign policy can play a vital role in rallying the world, and especially like-minded democracies, to solve the great challenges of our time,” the White House official added.


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