What Is Biden Doing In Europe And Why Is He Meeting Putin Biden wants to rebuild relations with allies, but some of his old friends in Europe have grown weary after the last four years.
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Biden Heads To Europe To Convince Allies The United States Has Their Backs

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Biden Heads To Europe To Convince Allies The United States Has Their Backs

Biden Heads To Europe To Convince Allies The United States Has Their Backs

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden heads to Europe today. It is his first international trip since taking office - his mission, rebuilding relationships with allies. Some of his old friends in Europe are uncertain after the last four years of former President Trump. The eight-day journey will finish off with a face-to-face meeting with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is on the trip.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden worked the halls of European capitols for decades during his long political career. So his first trip is all about showing leaders that, in his words...

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. And we are not looking backward.

ORDOÑEZ: But the leaders he's going to see at the G-7 and in Brussels are having a hard time not looking back. They haven't forgotten how Donald Trump turned summits into slugfests.

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DONALD TRUMP: Well, he's two-faced.

ORDOÑEZ: That's, of course, Trump attacking Justin Trudeau at the 2019 NATO summit. The Canadian prime minister was caught on a hot mic making fun of Trump to other leaders.

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TRUMP: I find him to be a very nice guy. But, you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he's not paying 2%, and I guess he's not very happy about it.

ORDOÑEZ: Then there was that famous photo taken at a G-7. Angela Merkel and other leaders were looming over Trump, arguing with him. It became a kind of meme of how Europeans felt about Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TUSK: I would like to address President Trump directly.

ORDOÑEZ: That was Donald Tusk. He was the president of the European Council at the time. He was warning Trump ahead of that famous Helsinki meeting with Putin not to get his friends and foes mixed up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUSK: First of all, the America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many.

ORDOÑEZ: Charles Kupchan says Biden will get a much different reception.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: He will be treated as a rock star and feted rather than mocked as Trump was.

ORDOÑEZ: Kupchan worked on European issues in the Obama White House. He says a warm welcome will speak volumes.

KUPCHAN: Europeans during the Trump era questioned the degree to which they could look to and rely on the United States as a trusted friend, as a country that would protect it when the chips are down.

ORDOÑEZ: Biden says he wants to erase any lingering doubt about this. But he knows he has a lot of convincing to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: In my conversations with world leaders - and I've spoken to over 38, 40 of them now - I've made it known. I've made it known that America's back. And know what they say, the comment that I hear most of all from them? They say, we see America's back, but for how long?

ORDOÑEZ: Biden says he wants to work with his old friends on the big new challenges facing the world, like the strategic challenge posed by China. The White House hinted there's a new plan in the works for allies to band together and help get financing for big projects, an alternative to what China has been doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DALEEP SINGH: And of course, no challenge requires action more so than the pandemic.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Daleep Singh, a top adviser at the White House for security and economic matters, speaking in Washington last week. He says the United States will work with G-7 partners to boost vaccine production around the world and share more doses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SINGH: And so now that we have enough vaccine supply for all Americans, we're in a position to help, and so we will. It's the right thing to do, and it will save lives.

ORDOÑEZ: Biden says Democratic allies must show their model is better than the ones offered by autocratic leaders in Beijing and Moscow, which is why some people are surprised that he's meeting with Putin at the end of his trip, especially after all the hacking, the election meddling and the aggression to Ukraine. But Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, says it's necessary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: There is never any substitute for leader-to-leader engagement, particularly for complex relationships, but with Putin, this is exponentially the case.

ORDOÑEZ: Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, says it's important for NATO leaders to speak out about Russia's malign activities. But Daalder says they can only go so far.

IVO DAALDER: If NATO comes out and only says, Russia's terrible; we can't work with it; they represent a threat; we have to be absolutely opposed to them, then Putin will - would have no incentive at the Geneva meeting to come in and say, let's find ways to work together.

ORDOÑEZ: The Putin meeting is the hardest part of Biden's trip for the White House to script out. But when Biden is with the Europeans, there's little fear of a Trump-like insult or the president walking out of a meeting.

HEATHER CONLEY: Now, you lose the drama.

ORDOÑEZ: Heather Conley worked on European issues in the Bush State Department.

CONLEY: But you actually get to now focus on the work and not the theater. And trust me - there is so much work that these multilateral organizations need to do.

ORDOÑEZ: Biden begins this work tonight with a speech to U.S. troops stationed in the U.K, a tangible sign of what he says is an enduring U.S. commitment to allies.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington.

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