Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official Previewing the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
11:33 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining us today. Today’s call will be on background, attributed to a “senior administration official,” and contents will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call.
With that, I’ll turn it over to our speaker. Over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining. I’m just going to give a bit of an informal laydown of how we see this week shaping up. It’s an important and consequential week for President Biden and his leadership on the world stage in driving forward some critical priorities for America’s national security and for the broader peace and prosperity of the world.
We will travel up to New York today for a meeting between the President and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, where they will cover a number of critical topics, including issues like Afghanistan and Yemen, as well as big global challenges like COVID-19 and climate change. And this will be their first opportunity to have an extended one-on-one sitdown, and the President is very much looking forward to that.
Tomorrow morning, he will deliver his first address to the U.N. General Assembly as President of the United States. And the speech will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time: COVID-19; climate change; emerging technologies; rules of the road on trade and economics; investments in clean infrastructure that is noncorrupt and high-standards; a modern approach to counterterrorism; and vigorous competition with great powers, but not a new Cold War.
And 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 defined by working with allies and partners to solve problems that can’t be solved by military force and that require the cooperation of many nations around the world as well as nonstate actors from the private sector and nongovernmental organizations and international institutions.
And this will be the central theme of his speech, which will really lift up some of these big, hard challenges that will define the scope and shape of prosperity and security for the people of the United States and for people of the world in the years ahead.
And he will reinforce the notion that our futures and our fortunes are really interconnected and bound up with one another. And so, we all have to work together to cooperate in service of solving problems and seizing opportunities that lie before us.
He will have the opportunity at the end of the week to host the first-ever in-person Quad Summit. And this will be an example of what he’s laying out in his speech: a gathering of likeminded, democratic partners to tackle these big challenges — COVID, climate, economic investment, technology.
And he will also have the chance to hold bilateral meetings. He’ll hold one with Prime Minister Modi on Friday, as well as an engagement with Prime Minister Suga on Friday here in Washington. He will see Prime Minister Morrison tomorrow in New York when they are both there for the General Assembly. He couldn’t do all three on one day and do the Quad Summit, and so he’ll see Prime Minister Morrison tomorrow in New York.
He will host a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Johnson tomorrow evening here in Washington to cover the full range of issues in our relationship.
And then, on Wednesday — I apologize for moving around the week a bit. On Wednesday, President Biden will host a summit on COVID-19 to rally the world urgently to work towards ending this pandemic as rapidly as possible and building our systems better to be able to handle the next pandemic.
He believes that it is high time for the world to come together — and not just national leaders, but he’s placing a heavy emphasis on international institutions, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations — all of the actors who collectively have the capacity to beat COVID-19. And he is going to call for an all-hands-on-deck effort that can end this pandemic much more rapidly than if we allow for things to unfold without the kind of focused, sustained energy and effort that is required.
The summit will involve setting bold goals to hit on everything from vaccinations to the supply of lifesaving medications and technologies. And it will also set out a pattern of high-level meetings through the coming months to ensure that we are holding ourselves and the world accountable to following through on achieving these goals.
The United States will also have a series of announcements about our own further contributions above and beyond what we’ve already contributed to ending the pandemic globally.
The last thing that I would say before opening it up for questions about the shape of the week and other issues on people’s mind is just to reinforce the importance of the announcement that was made this morning with respect to international travel: Today, the President announced that, beginning in early November, the United States will be putting in place strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from passengers flying internationally into the United States by requiring that adult foreign nationals traveling here be fully vaccinated.
Critically for our European partners and for the UK, this policy means that we will no longer be implementing the current 212(f) travel policies for individual countries as of early November. We’ll be moving to a consistent requirement for all international air travelers coming to the United States.
But we’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to develop a protocol that will permit travel by individuals and families and business people from the E.U. and the UK, as well as from Brazil and India and other countries, to the United States with proof of vaccination.
So, let me stop there. And I’ll turn it back over to my colleague to open it up for questions. Thanks, everybody.
MODERATOR: Thanks, I think we’ve got time for about five or six questions right now.
Q Thanks, [senior administration official], for doing this. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit on two related issues to the announcement last week on the deal with the Australians. The first is: The United States, as you’ll remember well from your previous service in the Obama administration, worked really hard to try to avoid setting precedents for exporting HEU and wanted to limit long-range missiles. Understanding that the Australians are model citizens in the nonproliferation world, I’m wondering how the President plans to talk this week about whether there’s anything precedent-setting here.
And similarly, if you do get a conversation going with President Macron, is there some kind of package, some kind of new initiative, some kind of compensation the U.S. has in mind to discuss with him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So, on the first issue, this is a unique set of circumstances involving a unique actor — Australia — which, as you noted in your question, is a model nonproliferation citizen in the world, has incredibly high standards, has a history of proving out its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has proven that not just by word but by deed, decade after decade.
And so, President Biden felt that with the unique case of Australia and then a unique set of safeguards for this material — the highest possible standards of safeguarding the HEU, stewardship of the HEU, consistent with the International Atomic Energy Agency, with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in consultation with the relevant international bodies — that we will be able to show that this is not a broad precedent that opens the doors but rather a very narrow-use case involving the combination of a unique set of circumstances.
I would (inaudible) —
Q So you’re prepared to tell a country like South Korea, for example, that they wouldn’t qualify?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don’t have the intention of extending this to other countries. This is a Australia — this is for Australia. And it is based on a unique set of circumstances involving the Australian case.
Also, I think, really importantly, there’s a reason why the announcement was an announcement for an 18-month period of consultation, because what we intend to do over the course of a year and a half is make sure that we have proven out the protocols necessary to ensure the stewardship and safeguarding of this technology. And the President will only move forward at a time when he is fully satisfied that that’s all been handled in an effective and highly transparent way.
So, the world will be able to see as we go that we are showing, over time, exactly what we are saying now.
With respect to President Macron, the reports are correct that — that President Biden has asked to be able to speak with President Macron, to talk about the way forward, to talk about his deep commitment to the U.S. alliance with France — an alliance that has fostered security, stability, and prosperity around the world for decades. The President wants to communicate his desire to work closely with France in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and to talk about specific practical measures that we can undertake together.
We understand the French position. We don’t share their view, in terms of how this all developed, but we understand their position. And we will continue to be engaged in the coming days on this. And we look forward to the phone call between President Biden and President Macron once its time is fixed on the books. We think that will be an important moment and opportunity for the two leaders to speak directly with one another.
The two of them, you know, have, I think, a deep mutual respect, and that will be an important interaction and engagement as we look to chart a productive path forward.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for doing the call. I wanted to know — I know that you said that this would be a closing — the speech that President Biden will give would focus on “closing the chapter on war and turning toward intense diplomacy.”
But at — right now, the Biden administration is facing problems with allies, including France, and — after what happened in Afghanistan, that the U.S. is moving unilaterally and making big decisions just focused on what’s best for the U.S. and not including allies and other countries.
So I guess, how do you square that with the criticism that the U.S. is facing from close allies — that the U.S. is not engaging with its partners and that it’s moving on its own?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, so I think if you look at the most significant challenges, the highest-priority issues facing the world today, you see the United States has been deeply engaged with allies and partners and with the relevant international institutions.
The President is hosting a summit on COVID-19 on Wednesday where allies, partners, and even competitors have been invited to talk about how we find a collective way forward.
The United States and the European Union are holding a ministerial-level meeting of the Trade and Technology Council on September 29th. This will be an opportunity to talk about how we shape a common way forward on our economy and on emerging technologies, and it’s an unprecedented vehicle to be able to do that.
So, when you walk through those significant issues — the depth and richness of the engagement with our allies and partners, the work that we have done with the European Union, the work we have done with Asian allies and partners, the deepening of the Quad as a vital part of the institutional framework of Asia –, I think the picture is actually quite positive, despite the differences in perspective on Afghanistan and the issues we are dealing with with France right now, which I believe we can find a productive pathway forward out of and be in a position with France, over time, where the two — our two countries are working very closely together on all of these significant issues, as well as on critical security issues where we cooperate intensively with France in the Sahel — working together on the counterterrorism mission there.
So, if you look at the totality of the Biden foreign policy — of the ways in which we have worked on the big issues and done so very much in coordination, consultation, and common action with allies and partners, and then you look at the months ahead and what’s on the docket and the trajectory that we’re setting for ourselves — the President feels very good about the path forward and about how American foreign policy can play a vital role in rallying the world and especially rallying like-minded democracies to solve the great challenges of our time.
Q Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. Could you give us some details of what will be discussed during the Quad meeting on Friday and also, specifically, the bilateral between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, for the Quad, President Biden has made elevating the Quad a priority, as we all saw through the first Quad leaders-level engagement in March, which was virtual, and now this summit, which will be in person.
Hosting the leaders of the Quad fundamentally is a demonstration of the priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations designed to focus on 21st century challenges.
So the main areas where you will see both consultation and then some announcements will be on COVID-19. And, you know, in March, there was a commitment to producing a billion vaccines through the Quad, by the end of 2022. And there’ll be some announcements about moving that forward, as well as other forms of COVID-19 assistance.
In addressing the climate crisis — and there will be clean energy and climate-related announcements coming out of the Quad.
Partnering on emerging technologies in cyberspace, promoting high-standards infrastructure, and, of course, an overarching commitment at the core of the Quad to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.
And then, in terms of the bilat with Prime Minister Modi, this will be the first in-person meeting with Prime Minister Modi, on Friday. And it will be an opportunity to really go from strength to strength, from the point of view of our global partnership with India, by working together to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific by the steps that our two countries — who are both vital in the global fight against COVID-19 — can each take practically to contribute to a global solution and by taking concerted action to address the climate crisis.
So, in an interesting way, the bilateral discussion between the U.S. and India will help reinforce and give momentum to the Quad discussion because many of the topics are very much interrelated.
In addition, of course, in the bilateral with Prime Minister Modi, the two leaders will have the opportunity to talk about the broader threat of counterterrorism and the situation in Afghanistan and how we can work together to fight our common enemy of terrorism, as well as to talk about a range of regional issues and developments where we’ll have the opportunity to compare notes.
And then the very last thing I would just say is the relationship between the United States and India goes so much deeper than just a government-to-government relationship; it really is a relationship between two peoples. And I think Prime Minister Modi and President Biden really want to talk about the ways of pulling our countries even closer together at basically every level of interaction between our societies.
Q Wealthy nations at the U.N. climate talks in 2009 had pledged $100 billion in financial commitment to help poorer nations adopt clean energy that I believe was due to kick in annually in 2020. Is there going to be any addressing this issue — putting meat to the bones of the commitment that Secretary Kerry had made earlier this summer?
And second, Secretary-General Guterres expressed some concern about China and the United States needing to repair what he called a “completely dysfunctional relationship” before problems between the two spillover even further into the rest of the planet. How is the President planning on addressing the Secretary’s concerns to that effect?
And finally, why isn’t the President meeting in person with Macron this week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, my understanding –though someone can correct me if I’m wrong — is that President Macron is not traveling to New York for the General Assembly. I think he’s addressing it virtually.
In terms of the Secretary-General’s comments, as I said in my opening remarks, 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.
And if you look at the readout of his call with President Xi Jinping several days ago, you will see him — you will see exactly that message reflected. That was the message that he conveyed directly to President Xi in the call. It is the message he will convey from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow.
And it is our firm commitment to stand up for our interests and to stand up for our allies, but to do so in a way that is responsible and that does not drive towards conflict, either intended or unintended.
There are also areas where we can work together with China and should work together with China, and that includes on climate, it includes on insuring that we do end this pandemic as rapidly as possible. So, that’s on that issue.
And then finally, on climate, the President will speak to the issue of developed nations’ financial obligations and commitments, including the $100 billion-a-year pledge. And he will speak to what the United States intends to do in that regard. You will hear from him on that tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. That’s all we have time for today. Friendly reminder that this call is on background, attributed to a “senior administration official.” And with the conclusion of the call, the embargo is lifted. Thanks.
11:56 A.M. EDT