The president reassured European allies that the US was back and mobilized them to counter China. Whether he set up “red lines” for the Kremlin remains to be seen.
GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks on his first trip abroad since taking office: Convince allies that America is back, and for good; to gather them into a common cause against the growing threat of China; And set some red lines for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”
He largely completed the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency could yet be just an intermezzo, given the Trump era and the election of another America’s first leader in the 72-year-old Atlantic Coalition. Beach sandwich.
They made inroads into second place, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been an overwhelming reluctance to think of China as a threat economically, technologically and militarily – and secondly as an economic partner.
Mr Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr Putin. But it is not clear whether any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday after a three-hour summit meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva will radically replace a poor dynamic.
Mr Biden, a senior aide of his, said after the meeting ended, “always optimistic” that Mr Putin could see gains in the changing course, despite a long history of attempts to undermine the Western coalition.
“He may be lonely,” said the aide.
It was Mr Biden’s European comeback tour, and he played in England, on the rocky coast of Cornwall, playing all the old crowd favorites – talking about friendship, alliances, consultations, camaraderie and multilateralism. At each stop, he began with the same three words: “America is back.”
He quoted poets, mostly Irish poets. All of this was warmly received by European leaders, who criticized President Donald J. for being a weak, divided, self-interested free-rider. Were battered and hurt by Trump’s attacks.
What Mr Biden didn’t say was almost as important as what he said. He did not ask why he should commit to protecting countries running a trade surplus with the United States, a frequent topic for Mr Trump. Instead, he spoke of the economic benefits of developing new forms of clean energy or joint projects in semiconductor manufacturing.
Still, when French President Emmanuel Macron sat down with Biden to say that “it’s great to have the US president part of the club,” it was a line that was clearly divided in different parts of the United States. Will play Among the 74 million people who voted for Mr Trump last year, there is the “club” problem, a place where American interests are subdued.
But Mr Biden has never directly addressed – at least in his public comments – the root source of Europe’s post-traumatic stress syndrome: doubts about the future of American democracy. Obviously, he can make no predictions, much less guarantee, what will happen when his term ends in January 2025. That’s why he didn’t try.
“Don’t underestimate the Trump years as a blow to the EU,” said Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe, a Brussels think tank. “There is a shadow of his return and the EU will be left in the cold again. So the EU is more cautious in accepting US demands.”
But Mr Biden has argued to Europeans that the best insurance against another Trump-like president is to work with him to show that democracy works, and to respond to China’s challenge.
Competition with China was at the center of a deal to resolve a decades-old Boeing-Airbus dispute, which dates back to 2004 and a source of tariffs.
What ultimately resolved this – and wiped out the implementation of $11.5 billion in tariffs – was a general resolution to avoid reliance on the Chinese supply chain to manufacture aircraft and slow China’s entry into the commercial aircraft business. The subtext was to start engaging Europe in “decoupling” from China’s economic influence.
While the message brings a sense of relief that the US is back, Thomas Bagger, a German diplomat who is an adviser to the country’s president, said, “We have also noticed that the center of gravity of US policy is changing, and The centrality of China’s rise to US interests would have profound consequences for Europe and any new German government.
Both Mr Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who have always been the strongest voices for considering China as a partner first and competitor second – expressed some concern that a balance should be struck on China, which is an important trade partner. Which is important for China. Solving the climate crisis and not military power in Europe.
“If you look at cyber threats and hybrid threats, if you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you can’t just ignore China,” Ms Merkel said. But she also added: “No one should overrate it – we need to find the right balance.”
Another subtext of the visit was the unease of some European leaders, with Mr Biden’s repeated declarations that the struggle of the era is “democracy versus autocracy”. Not that they disagree, many said on the sidelines of the meetings, but that Mr Biden’s words could harden divisions and start a new Cold War.
They say they understand Biden’s concern that China’s technology strategy is about building a system of cellular networks, undersea cables and space assets that would give it the ability to cut off communications or covertly monitor it.
And they don’t argue with the White House’s attempt to halt US investment in Chinese firms that are selling facial recognition software and the social-scoring algorithm that Beijing uses to quell dissent and imprison its Muslim minority. . But so far he is with Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken has not joined in when he referred to Beijing’s actions against the Uighur population and other Muslim-majority minorities as genocide.
So Mr. Biden reduced his autocracy versus democracy talk for this visit. And it worked.
“While Biden has received words from Europeans, he has not received deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Solving some business issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you end, how you turn the sentiments in the releases into common policies, and that will be very difficult.”
Mr Biden carefully choreographed the visit so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the coalition before leaving to meet Mr Putin. Mr Biden made it clear that he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and NATO allies were one.
It allowed Mr Biden to take a softer tone when he arrived in Geneva for the summit, where he sought to portray Mr Putin as a different leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he is looking for a Cold War with the United States,” it was a sign that Mr Biden believed he had The advantage that the rest of the world has is imperceptible.
Mr Putin’s economy is “struggling”, he said, and he faces a lengthy border with China at a time when Beijing is “hell” on supremacy.
“He is still, I believe, concerned about being ‘encircled,'” Mr Biden said. “He’s still worried that we’re really trying to take him down.” But, he said, he didn’t think that security fears were “the driving force for the kind of relationship we’re looking for with the United States.”
He set it as the first test of Mr Putin’s willingness to seriously review how to improve “strategic stability”, which he described as “controlling the introduction of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that would Coming on the scene now “which reduce reaction times, increasing the chances of accidental combat.”
This is an area that has been neglected, and if Mr Biden is successful he could save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as on the development of new nuclear delivery systems.
But none of this is likely to stop Mr. Putin in a world of cyber weapons, which are cheap and give him a modicum of power every day. Mr Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if Russia “violates these basic norms, we will be cyberbullying.” Will answer with.
The US has had those capabilities for years, but the cyber conflict with Russia has been hesitant to use them, fearing it could turn into something big.
But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation that it cannot be allowed to come to that. Finally, he said just before boarding the flight home in Air Force One, “You have to find out what the other person’s selfishness is. Their selfishness I don’t trust anyone.”
David E. Sanger Reported from Geneva and steven erlanger from Brussels.