President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington, Sept. 20, 2021, after returning from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington, Sept. 20, 2021, after returning from Rehoboth Beach, Del. AP / Andrew Harnik

Biden to Pitch Partnership at UN, Amid Tension With France and Other Allies

The withdrawal from Afghanistan “opens the chapter” for diplomacy, a senior administration official said.

President Joe Biden will tout the importance of diplomacy and alliances in front of the United Nations on Tuesday at the same time his administration is trying to patch up the relations with America’s oldest ally. 

Biden’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York will kick off one of the most foreign-policy-heavy weeks of his presidency, which will also include meetings with important allies in Washington and the first in-person meeting of leaders of the Quad. But hanging over it all is tension with France, which was blindsided last week by a new U.S.-UK-Australia partnership, as well as lingering frustration from allies about the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At the United Nations, Biden is expected to highlight how important diplomacy will be to his administration after two decades of war, a senior administration official said Monday. The president is expected to stress the global cooperation required to end the COVID-19 pandemic, slow climate change, compete with China and Russia, and address other problems.

“The president will essentially drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed the chapter focused on war and opens the chapter focused on purposeful, effective, intensive diplomacy, defined by working with allies and partners to solve problems that can’t be solved by military force,” the official told reporters. 

After his speech, Biden will meet individually with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in New York and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Washington, just days after the three nations agreed to launch a new alliance focused on the Indo-Pacific under which Australia will get the technology for nuclear-powered submarines.

France has publicly criticized this new partnership, which led Australia to cancel a $90 billion contract for conventional submarines with French shipbuilder Naval Group. French leaders have also complained that they received no advance notice about the deal. In protest, France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron was not slated to attend the United Nations General Assembly in person, so he and Biden will not have a chance to speak face-to-face. But BIden has asked Macron for a phone call, which has not yet been scheduled, to work through the diplomatic crisis, the senior administration official said. 

“The president wants to communicate his desire to work closely with France in the Indo-Pacific and globally,” the senior administration official said. “We don’t share their view in terms of how this all developed, but we understand their position and we will continue to be engaged in the coming days on this.” 

Asked how the administration can reconcile Biden’s rhetoric about prioritizing partnerships with the issues with France and other NATO allies, who complain they were left out of conversations about pulling out of Afghanistan, the senior administration official pointed to global engagements on “the highest priority issues facing the world today,” including climate change, COVID-19, and trade.

“I think the picture is quite positive despite the differences in perspective on Afghanistan and the issues we’re dealing with with France right now,” the official said. “The president feels very good about the path forward and how American foreign policy can play a vital role in rallying the world.” 

Biden’s focus on the Indo-Pacific will continue on Friday, when the president will host bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who last met with Biden in April. In addition, the White House will host the first in-person meeting of the Quad, a partnership between America, Australia, India and Japan focused on deterring China and promoting democratic values. 

“Hosting the leaders of the Quad fundamentally is a demonstration of the priority and engagement in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations designed to focus on 21st century challenges,” the senior administration official said. 

The group, which is not a formal alliance, last met virtually in March to form working groups on COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, innovation and technology and protecting supply chains. A senior administration official said there would be an update after Friday’s meeting on the group’s goal to produce 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022, as well as announcements related to clean energy and climate.