Vigorous preparation returns, as Biden calls other leaders

WASHINGTON (AP) – A new old ritual is taking shape in the Biden White House, one that starts with extensive briefing packages, “what-if” war games and Oval Office discussions on how to talk to this or that particular American ally or opponent.

Twelve times since he took office, President Joe Biden has called a world leader after reinstating what was a long-held white household milled by Donald Trump: vigorous preparation. Gone are unnecessary deviations and over-the-top kajoling or haranguing of colleagues by heads of state.

The changes in telephone diplomacy have been about both style and substance, as Biden has tried to send the message to foreign leaders – many embittered by Trump’s habit of bestowing his colleagues and gathering personal interests with US national security – that Biden is determined to reset the US relationship to the world.

“They’ve come up with the idea that they need to manage alliances really well just outside the bat,” said Matthew Goodman, who served on White House National Security Council staff under Barack Obama and the George W. Bush administration. “It’s a key organizational principle, as they seem to be turning the page on Trump and getting alliances back on track. Preparing for calls is part of it. ”

The city’s foreign policy will ultimately be judged on results more than form or preparation. But his approach so far is a marked change from Trump, who seemed to have better relations with autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un than with many historic American allies. The former president often came from far away from telephone conversations and advice given by his aides to his dialogue with world leaders.

Printed transcripts showed that Trump days after his administration disposed of diplomatic finesse and prevented Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto from publicly saying that Mexico would never pay for a southern border wall, a signature call from the presidential campaign in 2016. Trump also complained to the Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that he forced Trump to endure the most “unpleasant call” and was “worse than me” for detaining refugees on small islands off Australia.

Most notably, the 2019 Republican president’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy led to Trump’s indictment after it was revealed that Trump had asked him to “do us a favor” and investigate Biden and his son Hunter’s activity in the country.

As was the case with previous administrations, Biden advisers typically prepare the president ahead of calls with a package of written background information, including summaries of recent developments in the country, a summary of past interactions with the leader, and talking points on topics to be highlighted as well. ” if asked for “notes to help shape the president’s response to hot-button questions that his counterpart might raise.

Trump aides realized early on that the president had little patience to brief material or speech. At first, they offered him a six-page pre-brief with attachments before calling, but it turned out to be too long. So they made a version on a page. Trump later received note cards that typically contained only three talking points.

“Sweating the details of every word in a note did not matter, because it was not important for the president to communicate the right message on behalf of the United States,” said Frances Brown, senior national security adviser. The Council of Trump and the Obama administrations. “For an NSC employee, it invited a bit of an existential crisis.”

Last week, Biden called China’s Xi Jinping for a two-hour conversation in which he expressed concern about human rights violations and unfair commercial practices. Earlier, in a call with Putin, Biden condemned the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and pressured Putin on his nation’s involvement in a comprehensive cyber espionage campaign in the United States.

Prior to both calls, Biden senior officials were given a preview by reporters of what the president planned to say, a move to help ward off potential efforts by Beijing and Moscow to control public announcements about the talks.

Biden’s first leadership call as president went to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the prime minister whom Trump once disrespected as “very dishonest and weak.”

For Biden, the chat with Trudeau was a lot of tough conversation and a lot of light foam. Biden explained his decision to stop construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a project from Canada to the United States that Trudeau supports. Biden also recalled his late first wife’s family ties to Toronto and his own 2016 visit to Ottawa when Trudeau honored him with a state dinner.

The two leaders discussed the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and two Canadians jailed in China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei director, according to Canadian officials.

A senior Canadian official familiar with the call said Biden seemed well prepared for a half-hour conversation, noting that it went further than any call the prime minister had with Trump.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent several years flattering and skipping Trump, said in an interview with CBS on Sunday about “Face the Nation” that his conversation with Biden was “fantastic” and they had talked about topics such as climate change , NATO, Iran and more.

The White House in particular published one official photo of the Biden meeting in the Oval Office with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and NSC’s Senior Director for European Affairs Amanda Sloat as he prepares for his recent call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

James Carafano, a national security analyst at the Conservative Heritage Foundation, said that with his first round of calls, Biden has been primarily concerned with sending the message that he has since turned to Trump. But Carafano claims that the new president has largely avoided specifying what it means essentially for U.S. foreign policy.

“He has not really gone beyond the fact that we have to work with the theme of friends and allies,” Carafano said.

Biden made clear his desire to return to diplomacy after Trump withdrew from the Obama-backed international nuclear deal with Iran.

Around the world, great emphasis is also placed on which countries have not yet been placed on Biden’s call list.

The new president has not yet spoken to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had a close relationship with Trump, although the United States and Turkey were at odds with a number of issues, including Syria’s policy and Turkey’s decision to buy Russia’s advanced anti-aircraft missile systems. . The latter prompted Washington to expel Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter program.

The bite on the campaign trail called Erdogan an autocrat, and as vice president was forced to offer an official apology in 2014 after suggesting that Turkey played a role in the rise of the Islamic State group.

Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, on Wednesday tweeted a list of 10 countries he said had received calls from Biden. “Can it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of #US?” Danon wrote.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said nothing should be read in the absence of a call so far. “This is not a deliberate diss,” she said, promising a call for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Gillies reported from Toronto.

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