Biden and the bright, tough, worthy killer

Unlike the EU, Biden can't solve his Putin problem with a task force.

Biden and the bright, tough, worthy killer

President Joe Biden is in Geneva prepping for his head-to-head summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — where this week-long trip to Europe will get very real, very quickly.

The meeting will take place across two sessions at an 18th-century villa overlooking Lake Geneva, and is shaping up as a chance for both sides to express “red lines” in their broken relationship.

For now, there’s little incentive for either side to concede anything, but Biden is backing off some of his earlier blunt talk about Putin: “He’s bright. He’s tough … a worthy adversary,” Biden told reporters in Brussels. No mention of Putin being a “killer” this time. Instead, it was up to Vice President Kamala Harris, in address to a Brussels foreign policy forum, to say that “autocrats have become more destructive. Human rights abuses have multiplied. The rule of law that underpins our international order is under assault.”

The legacy of the first EU-U.S. summit since 2014, meanwhile, is a trail of new transatlantic alliances, task forces, councils, working groups and dialogues. We break it down here, and look at the traps Biden needs to avoid in Geneva.

Will a bunch of committees really fix the transatlantic relationship’s knottiest problems?

RYAN HEATH, GLOBAL TRANSLATIONS AUTHOR: There will be U.S.-EU dialogues on Russia, cyber threats, and migration; councils on trade and tech, and another on competition; a task force on Covid supply chains; a working group on steel tariffs; an alliance on “Green Tech”; and a “cooperative framework” on the Boeing-Airbus dispute. The EU loves this sort of thing, but there will need to be some serious expectation management — the biggest risk is these committees just become dumping grounds for big problems that need political solutions from the top.

That’s the risk I was pointing to when I called the Boeing-Airbus five-year ceasefire a Band-Aid in this morning’s round-up. But President Biden called it a “major breakthrough” — we’ll know in a year which one of us is right.

JAKOB HANKE VELA, TRADE CORRESPONDENT: The most inflammatory transatlantic trade dispute, , is a good example of that risk. The tariff dispute will be even harder to resolve than the aircraft subsidies issue and — not wanting to alienate America’s steelworkers — Biden is in no hurry to unwind these tariffs. Instead, the EU and U.S. have set up a “working group” to try to resolve their differences within a six-month deadline.

LAURENS CERULUS, TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Ursula von der Leyen said the trade and tech council will focus on “the most urgent” issues first. She singled out microchips, and the need to “jointly commit to maintain supply chains open, and to keep supply chains secure.”

MARK SCOTT, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: That’s because there’s a global shortage in semiconductor production. The U.S. and EU agreed to work together on fixing this imbalance as part of a broader effort to secure the supply chains of critical sectors that are under increased competition from the likes of China, including by bring more microchip production closer to home. What’s unclear, though, is how Brussels and Washington plan to succeed when both are wooing semiconductor companies — often in competition with each other.

What did the EU and US decide on China?

HEATH:I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that Brussels and Washington will work together on “addressing non-market practices of third parties that may harm their respective large civil aircraft industries,” an obvious reference to China. Who are they kidding? The EU and U.S. can’t solve their own 17-year-long dispute about rampant aviation subsidies — but now they want to lecture others!

STUART LAU, CHINA DIRECT AUTHOR: Ryan has a point, but at least Airbus is clearer-eyed about China’s growing competitiveness, unlike Volkswagen, which was one of the leading forces behind Germany’s insistence on an EU-China investment deal. On the other hand, the EU leaders who met Biden made no mention whatsoever about the elephant in the room, China, during their press conference remarks. It’s as if Biden traveled all the way to Brussels to talk about … the . Biden may have managed to include a few mentions about China in the post-summit  — but it was squeezed down to paragraph 26.

For now, Europe continues to walk a very fine line when it comes to Beijing, and is still reluctant to cast China as its biggest geopolitical rival, as the U.S. does. But as the last few days have shown, it’s not impossible for Washington to get something out of the Europeans to confront Beijing, namely on human rights, unfair trade practices, WHO reform and tech cooperation.

What is the plan for handling Putin?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Biden’s aides say the president will press Putin directly on cyber attacks, human rights and Russian aggression in Ukraine. But Biden also hopes to speak to him about areas where they might have common ground, including nuclear arms control and climate change.

What Biden is really doing is  that he can forge a relationship with Putin based on skepticism and stability. His predecessors couldn’t, but he has gone out of his way to meet and push back on authoritarian figures throughout his career, so he does have some experience to lean on. In 1993, he confronted Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia and Yugoslavia, calling him a war criminal. In 2009 he  a formal dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over a corruption disagreement.

 that in 2011 he turned to Putin and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” According to Biden, Putin smiled and replied, “We understand one another.”

BRYAN BENDER, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nuclear arms control provides a possible exception to low expectations about the meeting. Both countries are striking a similar tone, and ex-defense chiefs, foreign ministers and retired nuclear commanders from both nations have proposed a series of steps the two leaders could take to help constrain the world’s deadliest arsenals. From a simple pledge to resume regular negotiations to seek further reductions, to a more ambitious but nonbinding public commitment to reduce current arsenals.

Just days after Biden took office in January, the United States and Russia agreed to a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limits both sides’ most powerful nuclear arms to 1,550 deployed weapons. But there is little agreement on what might come next.

CERULUS:The G-7 countries on Sunday agreed to “work together to urgently address the escalating shared threat from criminal ransomware networks.”Putting an end to ransomware attacks that begin in Russia would require stopping millions of dollars from reaching the criminal gangs, and — crucially — getting Russian law enforcement to actually start cracking down.

What traps must Biden avoid when meeting Putin?

KUMARI’ve been talking to people about this the last couple days and I keep hearing about two concerns. First, Biden shouldn’t be alone with Putin. When the two last met a decade ago, Putin asked Biden, then vice president, to meet alone for part of the time. My sources don’t want Biden to agree to do that this time — because of concerns that there would be no record and Putin could spin it any way he wanted. Second, Biden shouldn’t fall for Putin’s usual tactic to try and equate Russia’s bad behavior with other countries’ behavior when there is no legitimate comparison. They don’t want him to fall for Putin’s tactic the same way Trump did when he said Russia might extradite criminals to the U.S. if Washington made Americans available to Moscow for questioning.

NAHAL TOOSI, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I was earlier of the mind that if the two didn’t hold a joint press conference, that would be a sign of how bad the meeting went. But I’ve changed my stance on that. If it holds that Biden does a solo appearance, I think he’s avoiding a trap right there. Putin has in the past used joint appearances to spring surprises on counterparts (like suggesting  to Biden last time). Another trap to avoid with Putin: Lengthy discussion of what a “rules-based order” really means. He’s never going to get Putin to come around on the idea, which  as a way for the West to stay hegemonic. The whole thing becomes pedantic and didactic.

Source : Politico EU More   

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EU swaps Trump’s well-done steak (with ketchup) for Biden’s prime ribeye

A love-fest with new president in Brussels, and support as he confronts Russia.

EU swaps Trump’s well-done steak (with ketchup) for Biden’s prime ribeye

For the EU, Joe Biden’s first overseas trip as U.S. president was like having big brother come home from university — just in time to confront the neighborhood bully.

After four days at busy leaders’ summits of the G7 and NATO, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel finally got a chance to sit down with Biden on Tuesday for their own quiet conversation about EU-U.S. relations, before sending him off to Geneva where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Their collective message: We love you, Joe. Now go get him.

The meeting on Tuesday was nothing short of a lovefest, with perhaps the only disagreement being who was happiest, Biden or the Europeans, that Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States.

“Well, Mr. President, dear Joe, we are so pleased to welcome you in Brussels,” von der Leyen said, as she joined Michel to greet Biden on the red carpet of the Council’s Europa building. “You are back in Brussels and America is back on the global scene. It’s great news. It’s great news for our alliance. It’s also great news for the world. And we are really delighted to work with you to tackle together some global challenges.”

Biden quickly picked up the theme.

“America is back,” he said. “We never fully left, but we are reasserting the fact that it’s overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States of America to have a great relationship with NATO and with the EU.” Then, pointedly, he added: “I have a very different view than my predecessor.”

You don’t say.

Gone is the swaggering blowhard who called the EU a geopolitical foe that was created to harm the U.S., the guy who berated European NATO allies as deadbeats and accused Germany of selling out the West for cheap Russian gas.

Gone is the Sharpie-wielding, map-altering “stable genius” who couldn’t tell the Baltics from the Balkans, who wondered if Finland was part of Russia, and congratulated Giuseppe Conte, who has never run for political office, on his “tremendous victory” in Italian elections.

And gone, gone, gone is the charmer who called Angela Merkel and Theresa May “losers” and — oh, the uncivilized inhumanity — ate his steaks well-done, slathered in ketchup.

There, in his place, walking the red carpet past the European flags in the so-called Space Egg that is the Council’s HQ, was the avowed Atlanticist who played foreign policy wise man to Barack Obama, the endearing grandad (who makes the occasional gaffe). He called American’s commitment to collective defense “rock-solid” and “a sacred obligation.”

As a down payment on rejuvenated relations, Biden agreed to a truce in the nastiest, longest-running cross-Atlantic trade feud — the battle over state subsidies to the airplane manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. The truce may be short-lived and less than meets the eye, but why fight over airplanes when you can use them to visit friends and take summer holidays?

A long delay in the publishing of the joint EU-U.S. statement after the meeting hinted at difficulties and disagreements being swept under some diplomat’s desk. But there was no public fretting, only reassurances that everything was fine, just fine.

The EU side did acknowledge that it was time for Biden and the U.S. to get more serious about carbon pricing, as part of the global response to climate change. But they didn’t dwell on it.

That Biden did not even bother to stick around for the closing news conference was also quickly forgiven. He is a busy man. Plus, he’s off to Geneva to try to reset relations with Russia on behalf of the entire Western world: Bonne chance, notre ami, bonne chance.

Standing with Michel at the news conference, von der Leyen gushed so much that one might have blushed.

On trade, she said it was good Biden had dropped Trump’s pretense for tariffs. “It was good to hear that the U.S. clearly agrees with us that the European Union is not a national security threat. So we are happy about that.”

But she was even happier about Biden’s views on the transatlantic relationship.

“It was impressive to see and to listen to President Biden how clearly he, first of all, was acknowledging that yes, we know that the last four years were difficult and the world has changed, but Europe has also changed,” von der Leyen said. “But there is a second important point: we are longstanding friends and allies and we share many, many same world views and we share the same values.”

“And the third point, which was for me impressive — I don’t know how it was for you,” she said, turning to Michel. “The way he explained to the two of us how much he cares about Europe because as he said, ‘We need, we Americans need Europe’ and the same goes for us, we Europeans need our American friends, because these are the democracies who uphold the values and who stand up for the fundamental rights and the values we really cherish and respect. And this atmosphere shows there is the knowledge, that we are different, of course, but we are one if you look at fighting for democracy.”

Von der Leyen needn’t have worried, Michel confirmed that it was good for him too.

“We have been able to look each other in the eye and also feel there is sincerity in a genuinely common approach,” he said. “More commitment for democracy. More commitment for stability and security.”

A first test of how well they will do on the stability and security front will be Biden’s high-stakes meeting in Geneva, where the Europeans are counting on him to try to at least set the stage for a breakthrough with Putin.

Von der Leyen noted that relations with Russia could hardly be worse. “We must say that the EU-Russia relationship is currently more on a negative spiral,” she said. “We would like to turn that, if I may say so, into a more predictable relationship.”

But the Europeans must also consider how dismal ties are between Moscow and Washington and how big a hole Biden and Putin need to climb out of after years of ill-will.

Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said that the Biden-Putin confrontation might be regarded as successful if they could agree on such minor steps as restoring normal diplomatic relations, with ambassadors back in each other’s capitals.

And Charap said that the White House was likely smart to avoid a joint news conference, where virtually any question would simply highlight bitter disagreements.

“If the purpose is to create a degree of stability and predictability, having public confrontation is not going to further that objective,” Charap said. As for what the meeting might yield, he added: “There hasn’t been enough time at the working level to achieve some big breakthrough. It’s a summit about starting processes not about finishing them.”

For Europe, any process that doesn’t involve the U.S. president saying he trusts Russia’s leader more than the U.S. intelligence services — as Trump did at his meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018 — might be sufficient.

Von der Leyen said Europe hoped to join forces with Biden so there is “clear pushback on breaches of international law; clear pushback on breaches of human rights” and “secondly, to constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine us.”

“But,” she said, “the EU-Russia relationship is on a negative spiral and this is what we conveyed clearly to President Biden.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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