MILDENHALL, England (AP) — President Joe Biden opened the first overseas trip of his term Wednesday with a declaration that “the United States is back” as he seeks to reassert the nation on the world stage and steady European allies deeply shaken by his predecessor.
Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in sweeping terms, believing the West must publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. It is an open repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who scorned alliances and withdrew from a global climate change agreement that Biden has since rejoined.
The president’s first stop was a visit with U.S. troops and their families at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where he laid out his mission for the trip.
“We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and issues that matter the most to our future,” he said. “That we’re committed to leading with strength, defending our values, and delivering for our people.”
The challenges awaiting Biden overseas were clear as the president and the audience wore masks — a reminder of the pandemic that is still raging around much of the world even as its threat recedes within the United States.
“We have to end COVID-19 not just at home — which we’re doing — but everywhere,” Biden said.
Shortly before the president spoke, people briefed on the matter said the Biden administration had brokered an agreement with Pfizer to purchase 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be donated to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union over the next year.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden was committed to sharing vaccines because it was in the public health and strategic interests of the U.S. He added that Biden is aiming to show “that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere.”
“As he said in his joint session (address), we were the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in World War II,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to be the ‘arsenal of vaccines’ over this next period to help end the pandemic.”
After addressing the troops, Biden and first lady Jill Biden flew to Cornwall Airport Newquay, then traveled by car to Tregenna Castle in St. Ives, where they are staying until Sunday.
Building toward his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden will aim to reassure European capitals that the United States can once again be counted on as a dependable partner to thwart Moscow’s aggression both on their eastern front and their internet battlefields.
The trip will be far more about messaging than specific actions or deals. And the paramount priority for Biden is to convince the world that his Democratic administration is not just a fleeting deviation in the trajectory of an American foreign policy that many allies fear irrevocably drifted toward a more transactional outlook under Trump.