In his first UN General Assembly speech since entering the White House, US President Joe Biden underscored the importance of alliances in countering the global challenges posed by ongoing conflicts, climate change and Covid-19. But his remarks came on the heels of the controversial US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a US-UK submarine deal with Australia that has angered France.
Biden told the General Assembly that the United States is beginning an “era of relentless diplomacy”, adding that military force “must be our tool of last resort – not our first”.
Amid growing tensions with China, Biden told the UN that the United States is “not seeking a new Cold War”.
The US president hoped to present a compelling case that the US remains a reliable ally to its partners around the world after years of “America First” policies pursued by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
Other pressing issues include Afghanistan’s unsettled future under its new Taliban rulers, and ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region.
No leaders came to the UN last year because the coronavirus was sweeping the globe, so all addresses were pre-recorded. This year, the General Assembly offered leaders a choice – come to New York or remain online. More than 100 decided to appear in person in the General Assembly hall.
By tradition, the first country to speak is Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, isn’t vaccinated. He reiterated last Thursday that he doesn’t plan to get the shot any time soon, justifying his refusal by saying he already had Covid-19 and therefore has a high level of antibodies.
The assembly opens as diplomatic tensions are already high among some permanent members of the UN Security Council. France was outraged when Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a plan last week for Australia to get nuclear-powered submarines using US technology. The deal effectively scuttled a prior $66 billion submarine contract Australia had with France. France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in protest.
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