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Biden tells allies America is back, but Macron and Merkel push back

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President Biden used his first public meeting with European allies in the Americas to describe a new struggle between the West and the forces of autocracy, declaring America is back while acknowledging that the past four years had had a negative impact on its power and influence.

His message stressing the importance of reinvigorating alliances and resuming the defense of Europe was, as might be expected, well received at a session of the Munich Security Conference to which Mr Biden s ‘is addressed from the White House.

But there was also reluctance, especially on the part of French President Emmanuel Macron, who in his speech passionately defended his concept of strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the United States, arguing that Europe can no longer be too dependent on the United States. it focuses its attention more on Asia, especially China.

And even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is stepping down within the year, tempered her praise for Mr Bidens’ decision to cancel plans to withdraw 12,000 American troops from the country by warning that our interests will not converge. always. It seemed to be a reference to Germany’s ambivalence over confronting China with a major market for its high-end German automobiles and other products and the continuing battle with the United States over the construction of the North pipeline. Stream 2 to Russia.

But the three leaders seemed to recognize that their first virtual meeting was a time to celebrate the end of America’s first era, and for Mr Macron and Ms Merkel to once again welcome Mr Biden, a politician. which they knew well from his years as a senator and vice president.

And Mr Biden used the moment to warn of the need for a common strategy to push back an internet-fueled narrative, promoted by both Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, that the chaos surrounding the US election was another sign of democratic weakness and decline.

We must demonstrate that democracies can still be of use to our people in this changed world, Mr Biden said, adding: We must prove that our model is not a relic of history.

For the president, a regular visitor to the conference even as a private citizen after serving as vice president, the speech was something of a homecoming. The session was reduced to a video meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this year’s host, and EU leaders decided to do the same for a brief closed-door Group of 7 Allies meeting which Mr Biden also attended. participated.

The next in-person summit meeting is still scheduled for Britain this summer, if the pandemic permits.

Mr. Biden never named his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, in his remarks, but framed them to erase the traces of Trumpism in America’s approach to the world. He celebrated his return to the Paris climate agreement, which went into effect just before the meeting, and a new initiative, announced Thursday evening, to join Britain, France and Germany to engage diplomatically Iran in an effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that Mr. Trump pulled out.

But rather than detailing an agenda, Mr. Biden attempted to recall the first principles that led to the Atlantic alliance and the creation of NATO in 1949, towards the start of the Cold War.

Democracy does not happen by accident, the president said. We must defend it. Strengthen it. Renew it.

In a deliberate contrast to Mr. Trump, who has spoken of withdrawing from NATO and repeatedly refused to recognize the responsibilities of the United States under Article V of the Charter of Alliances to assist the members attacked, Mr. Biden chose the United States. States as ready to assume their responsibilities as the linchpin of the alliance.

We will keep the faith with obligation, he said, adding that an attack on one is an attack on all.

But he also urged Europe to think of the challenges in a different way from the Cold War, even if the two biggest geostrategic adversaries seem familiar.

We must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China, he said, pointing to cyberspace, artificial intelligence and biotechnology as the new territory for competition. And he pleaded for pushing back Russia, he called Mr. Putin by his last name, with no attached title specifically mentioning the need to respond to the SolarWinds attack that targeted federal and corporate computer networks.

Tackling recklessness and hacking into Russian computer networks in the United States, Europe and around the world has become essential to protect collective security, Biden said.

The president avoided delving into the difficult question of how to get Russia to pay the price without escalating the confrontation. A high-ranking White House cyber official told reporters this week that the scope and depth of the Russian intrusion is still under consideration, and officials are clearly struggling to find options to fulfill the pledge of Mr. Bidens to make Mr. Putin pay the price for the attack. .

But it was the dynamic with Mr Macron, who has grown accustomed to criticizing the NATO alliance as close to brain death and more relevant since the demise of the Warsaw Pact, that has captured attention.

Mr Macron wants NATO to act more as a political body, a place where European members have a status equivalent to that of the United States and are less subject to the American tendency to dominate decision-making.

A Europe that is better able to defend itself and more autonomous would make NATO even stronger than before, insisted Mr. Macron. He said Europe should be much more in charge of its own security, increasing its defense spending commitments to rebalance transatlantic relations.

This is not a view widely shared by the many European states unwilling to spend the necessary money, and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are unwilling to leave their security to anyone except the United States. .

Macron also insisted that the renovation of NATOS’s security capabilities should involve a dialogue with Russia. NATO has always maintained that it is open to better relations with Moscow, but that Russia is not interested, especially as long as international sanctions remain after it took Crimea from Ukraine about seven years ago. years.

But Mr Macron, speaking in English to answer a question, also argued that Europe cannot rely on the United States as much as it has in recent decades. We need to shoulder more of the burden of our own protection, he said.

In practice, it will take many years for Europe to put in place a defense weapon that would make it more autonomous. But Mr Macron is determined to start now, just as he is determined to increase the technological capabilities of the European Union so that it becomes less dependent on US and Chinese supply chains.

Mr Biden, on the other hand, is keen to deepen those hardware and software supply chains among like-minded Western allies in a bid to reduce Chinese influence. He is preparing to come up with a new joint project for European and American technology companies in areas such as semiconductors and the types of software that Russia exploited in the SolarWinds hack.

It was Merkel who insisted on the complexities of relations with China, given its dual role as a competitor and an indispensable partner of the West.

In recent years, China has gained global influence and, as transatlantic partners and democracies, we must do something to counter this, Merkel said.

Russia continually takes members of the European Union into hybrid conflicts, she said. Therefore, it is important that we draw up a transatlantic program towards Russia that makes cooperation offers on the one hand, but on the other hand names the differences very clearly.

As Mr Biden announced he would honor the US pledge to donate $ 4 billion to the campaign to speed up the manufacture and distribution of coronavirus vaccines around the world, a move approved last year by a House led by Democrats and a Senate led by Republicans. differences of approach were evident during the meeting.

Stressing the importance the European Union places on Africa, Macron called on Western countries to provide 13 million doses of vaccine to African governments as soon as possible to protect health workers.

He warned that if the alliance failed to do so, our African friends would come under pressure from their people, and rightly so, to buy doses from the Chinese, the Russians or directly from the labs.

Vaccine donations would reflect a common desire to move forward and share the same values, Macron said. Otherwise, the power of the West, of Europeans and Americans, will only be a concept and not a reality.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, also on Friday urged countries and drug makers to help speed up the manufacture and distribution of vaccines around the world, warning that the world could return in Place 1 if some countries went ahead with their vaccination campaigns and left others.

Vaccine equity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smartest thing to do, Dr Tedros told the Munich conference. He argued that the longer it would take to vaccinate the populations of each country, the more the pandemic would get out of hand.

Melissa Eddy, Elian peltier and Mark Landler contribution to reports.

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