Biden Tries To Show — Not Just Tell — The World It Can Trust The U.S. Again President Biden's virtual climate summit this week reflected a key theme of his first hundred days in the White House: reassuring American allies they can once again count on the U.S.

Biden Tries To Show — Not Just Tell — The World It Can Trust The U.S. Again

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the early months of his administration, President Biden's foreign policy has often seemed to boil down to this.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And I'm sending a clear message to the world - America is back.

SIMON: But even as he signals a different tone from the Trump administration, President Biden is not totally erasing the past four years, as NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: This week, Biden virtually gathered leaders from around the globe and delivered a message.

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BIDEN: The United States isn't waiting. We are resolving to take action.

DETROW: It's the diplomatic version of a sad love song. I know the U.S. did you wrong before, but it's back now, and it's going to keep its promises. Biden and John Kerry, his international climate envoy, knew that after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, other countries would be skeptical.

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JOHN KERRY: We had a big step to get up. We had to restore America's credibility. We had to prove that we were serious.

DETROW: It's not just climate, though. Biden has had to spend a lot of time early on doing repair work. Right away, he put the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement and rejoined the World Health Organization. Senator Chris Coons, a top voice on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a close Biden ally, says those big steps were important. Coons says behind-the-scenes conversations went a long way, too.

CHRIS COONS: In a whole series of calls that he made to heads of state of long and close and trusted allies, President Biden made the sorts of comments and statements that were deeply reassuring to them.

DETROW: After Trump, Biden has had to make a lot of basic promises, like the fact that the U.S. would honor the premise of NATO, the mutual defense of other member nations.

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BIDEN: It's a guarantee. An attack on one is an attack on all. That is our unshakable vow.

DETROW: Biden has also taken pains to signal to allies that his administration is being deliberate, not setting policy via tweet. When Biden recently imposed new sanctions on Russia, he called President Vladimir Putin first to tell him they were coming. Jenna Ben-Yehuda, a State Department alum and the president and CEO of the Truman National Security Project, says all of this goes a long way with other countries. But she says...

JENNA BEN-YEHUDA: We need more than a participation trophy, certainly.

DETROW: As in, at a certain point, Biden will need to do more than reassure.

BEN-YEHUDA: We are back to do what, I think is the next question.

DETROW: About a hundred days in, several key themes have emerged in how Biden deals with the rest of the world. The most notable is a goal of centering most foreign policy decisions at home around how they affect America's middle class. Daleep Singh, a member of both the National Security Council and National Economic Council, explains.

DALEEP SINGH: Which means boosting job creation but also wage growth for American families and workers, and in doing so can reduce long-standing economic and racial and social disparities. So that's one. Two is what we've talked about a lot, strengthening American competitiveness.

DETROW: To try to do that, the White House is keeping some Trump policies, like tariffs and a wary view of China, in place. Biden has also emphasized a more lofty and big-picture goal, confronting a global rise of authoritarianism.

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BIDEN: We must demonstrate that democracy can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission.

DETROW: Biden's top economic adviser, Brian Deese, recently told a New York Times podcast that the White House realizes that other countries have questions about American democracy.

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BRIAN DEESE: Among our allies and among our global counterparts, there is a big question about can the United States deliver for its own citizens? Can the United States competently govern?

DETROW: Jenna Ben-Yehuda says going forward, one other key issue is vaccine diplomacy. She says it's in Biden's interest to make sure other countries have the resources to vaccinate their populations. If not...

BEN-YEHUDA: It weakens their economies. It stresses their national limits of infrastructure. And it makes it much more likely that we have a series of weak and failing fragile states that the U.S. will have to support in far more costly and extensive ways in the future.

DETROW: Biden has been slow to help vaccinate the rest of the world, instead focusing on getting shots in American arms. It may be the biggest conflict between Biden's two top foreign policy goals, restoring the country's global reputation and making sure Americans think he's acting with their best interests in mind.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington.

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