Biden heads to U.N. General Assembly amid tensions with France

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President Biden heads to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, amid international criticism of the U.S. over its handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as France bristles over a scrapped submarine deal. 

The president will be speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron in the next few days, following the French fury over the announcement of the U.S.-Australia nuclear-powered submarine deal last week. Australia canceled a nearly $100 billion contract to buy French conventional submarines in favor of nuclear-powered subs built with U.S. technology. Soon afterward, France recalled its ambassador to the U.S. A senior administration official said Mr. Biden has requested to speak with Macron. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the president’s speech Tuesday will highlight the importance of reestablishing alliances “after the last several years.” But she added, “Reestablishing alliances doesn’t mean that you won’t have disagreements or you won’t have disagreements about how to approach any particular issue in the world. That is not the bar for having an alliance, an important partnership. That has never been and is not currently with the goal of increasing the prospect of security and diminishing the prospect of war.”

It will be Mr. Biden’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly when he speaks in New York Tuesday morning. Mr. Biden, who campaigned on the theme of “America is back” to counter former President Trump’s “America first” slogan, will “reaffirm the United States is not turning inward,” Psaki said. 


That includes, Psaki said, the decision the president made “to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.” 

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Psaki said of the U.S. withdrawal that the president “will talk about his objective of turning our focus and our resources to the priorities in the regions of the world that are the most consequential.”

His message, she said will be that the U.S. is committed to its alliances, which “always requires work — from every president, from every global leader.” 

The president will make clear that many of the world’s greatest problems “cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms,” Psaki said. On a call with reporters Monday, a senior administration official said the president’s speech will center on the idea that 20 years of war are concluding, and the future holds “vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War.” 

Mr. Biden will argue that ending the Afghanistan war will “close the chapter focused on war and open the chapter on purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy” a senior administration official said.

Throughout the call with reporters, the senior administration official expressed optimism that the Biden administration would be able to move past the rough patches around Afghanistan and the submarine deal. When asked about the anger the Biden administration has sparked in allies, the senior administration official repeatedly turned to global cooperation on climate change and COVID-19 efforts. 

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“The picture is actually quite positive despite the differences in perspective on Afghanistan and … the issues we are dealing with with France right now, which I believe we can find a productive pathway forward out of—and be in a position with France over time where the two—our two countries are working very closely together on all of these significant issues, as well as on critical security issues where we cooperate intensively with France in the Sahel, working together on the counterterrorism mission there,” the senior administration official said.   

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