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Biden speech at U.N. to stress U.S. focus on 'intensive diplomacy,' official says

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy during a speech in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis reuters_tickers
This content was published on September 20, 2021 - 17:56

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will use his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday to stress that ending the military engagement in Afghanistan will open a new chapter of "intensive diplomacy," a senior administration official said.

Biden was to leave the White House on Monday afternoon to travel to New York to kick off a week that will be dominated by foreign policy, amid questions about his handling of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and a submarine deal with Australia that has angered France.

Biden is to meet U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres late on Monday afternoon, give his first speech as president to the U.N. General Assembly at mid-morning on Tuesday, meet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison afterward in New York, then return to Washington to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The senior official told reporters that Biden wants to speak on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Macron's anger at a deal reached between the United States, Australia and Britain last week in which Washington will supply advanced technology to Australia for nuclear-powered submarines.

The deal is aimed at helping Australia counter the rising influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region, but it undermined a French deal to supply Australia with a dozen diesel-powered submarines. France has complained it felt stabbed in the back by the agreement.

Biden understands the French position but does not agree with it, the official said. U.S. officials say Australia had sought the U.S. technology.

The speech gives Biden his biggest opportunity to date to talk about the direction of U.S. foreign policy following criticism at home and abroad that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August was chaotic and poorly planned, leaving behind some U.S. citizens and Afghan allies who could face reprisals from the Taliban now in power.

The official said the pullout allows the United States to focus on other priorities.

"The president will essentially drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed a chapter focused on war and opens a chapter focused on ... purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy," the official said.

Biden's meetings and remarks would be aimed at sending the message that this is an era of "vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War," the official said.

Biden will also up the U.S. commitments on climate change and COVID-19 vaccine donations, the official said, without providing specifics.

"President Biden will communicate tomorrow that he does not believe in the notion of a new Cold War with the world divided into blocs. He believes in vigorous, intensive, principled competition that does not tip over into conflict," the official said. Biden stressed the same message in a Sept. 9 call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the official said.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; editing by Grant McCool)

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