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Biden, at U.N., promises a foreign policy of 'relentless diplomacy'

President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th session

President Joe Biden speaks during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz

President Joe Biden, delivering his debut address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, declared that "a new era of relentless diplomacy" will guide U.S. foreign policy after the end of nearly two decades of U.S. combat in Afghanistan.

Biden, speaking at the UN headquarters in midtown Manhattan, laid out his foreign policy vision, asserting that "U.S. military power must be a tool of last resort" and insisting that the United States is not interested in "seeking a new Cold War" amid mounting tensions with China.

The president used his nearly 34-minute speech to call on world leaders to work collectively to tackle common threats, including COVID-19, climate change and terrorism.

"Our prosperity, and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view, as never before, and so I believe we must work together as never before," Biden said inside the cavernous UN General Assembly Hall.

His appeals for cooperation and his pledge to "not lead alone" came as Biden looked to overcome a set of recent diplomatic dust-ups.

Elected officials from allied countries have accused Biden of acting unilaterally, with little input from NATO allies, over the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And this past week, France’s top diplomat compared the Biden administration’s new pact with Australia and the United Kingdom to a "knife in the back" after the pact led Australia to abandon a deal to purchase submarines from France.

Biden, asked how he planned to repair relations with France, told reporters waiting outside of the UN auditorium, "they’re great," before heading in to deliver his speech.

The president, looking to present a contrast to the "America First" doctrine of his predecessor, said the United States remained committed to working with the UN and other international coalitions often criticized by former President Donald Trump.

"Our own success is bound up in others succeeding as well," Biden said. "To deliver for our own people we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world."

Biden said the United States would work through diplomatic channels to keep North Korea and Iran from further developing nuclear weapons. The president’s message was a sharp departure from Trump’s first speech to the UN in 2017, when he threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Biden argued that "many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms."

"Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19 or its future variants," Biden said. "To fight this pandemic, we need a collective act of science and political will."

Biden, who in June committed to donating 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to developing nations, said his administration will be announcing additional efforts on Wednesday when he is scheduled to host a virtual COVID-19 summit.

"We've lost so much to this devastating pandemic that continues to claim lives around the world," Biden said. "We're mourning more than 4.5 million people, people of every nation, from every background. Each death is an individual heartbreak. But our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity and to act together."

Without naming China directly in his speech, Biden listed some of the long-standing sources of tension between the two nations, including cyberattacks against U.S. companies, intellectual property theft of U.S. innovations and China’s increased aggression toward Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Biden said the United States is "not seeking a new Cold War," but also said the United States will "stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones."

Weighing-in on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Biden offered his "unequivocal" support to Israel but added: "I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel's future as democratic state. We're a long way from that goal at this moment."

The president, who has made tackling climate change a cornerstone of his foreign agenda, urged "every nation" to "bring their highest possible ambitions to the table," ahead of a UN summit on climate change to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Biden gave a nod to his two-part infrastructure plan that has yet to be approved by Congress, saying his "administration is working closely with our Congress to make critical investments in green infrastructure and electric vehicles."

After his speech, Biden met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the assembly, and later flew back to Washington to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the White House. The new pact between the three nations, announced last week, allows Australia to develop nuclear submarines and is seen as an effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

The three leaders will join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House on Friday for a meeting of the so-called "Quad," an informal alliance that was formed in 2007, partly in response to China’s growing military capabilities.

at the White House.

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