Biden, Boris Johnson release updated Atlantic Charter after first meeting
ST. IVES, England - President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have different politics, different styles and some deep differences of opinion, including over Britains exit from the European Union.
Biden, when running for president, once even disparaged Johnson as a "physical and emotional clone" of President Donald Trump.
But the two leaders were all smiles as they met for the first time Thursday, and they both underscored the history and durability of transatlantic ties as they focused on common goals such as ending the covid-19 pandemic and combating climate change.
"Fantastic to see you here," Johnson enthused.
"I'm thrilled to be here," Biden said.
Johnson later told British broadcasters that Biden president's approach is a "breath of fresh air," and that his talks with Biden had gone well.
The Biden administration has tried to play down the question of whether Biden would be chummy with Johnson, whom he had never met before Thursday, and Biden's worry that Johson's government may undermine the historic Good Friday peace agreement with Northern Island. Biden aides point instead to the long list of shared priorities and joint endeavors, including nearly 20 years fighting together in Afghanistan.
"The U.K. was with us from the start - they always are - equally committed to rooting out that terrorist threat," Biden said after his meeting with Johnson.
He did not lavish his host with praise, and he did not hold a news conference alongside Johnson, previously a standard feature of visits by leaders of either nation to the other. Biden did not mention the Northern Ireland issue publicly, but officials of both governments said it was discussed.
Biden instead focused on a touch-up to the Atlantic Charter, an 80-year-old statement of solidarity between Washington and London, before announcing that the United States is purchasing 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to donate to the rest of the world.
Biden called the vaccine handouts, first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, a moral and practical imperative and stressed that they come "with no strings attached."
"Our vaccine donations don't include pressure for favors, or potential concessions," Biden said. "We are doing this to save lives to end this pandemic. That's it, period."
In a call with reporters Thursday, senior administration officials underscored the significance of Biden's choice of the United Kingdom for his first foreign visit, and the meeting with Johnson as his first with a foreign leader abroad. The two countries share common security interests, an economic dimension - the United States views Britain as its largest investment partner and fourth-largest trading partner - and a commitment to democratic values, the officials said.
"Britain is blessed with alliances that keep us safe and advance our values, and we are putting all of this to work for the benefit of the British people," Johnson tweeted Thursday atop a mission statement for the Group of Seven leaders' meeting starting Friday.
Biden and Johnson, who is hosting the G-7 at a nearby coastal resort, agreed to an updated version of the Atlantic Charter, originally signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941 governing technology, travel and some trade ties between the two nations.
The new document details eight areas of agreement, expressed mostly in broad strokes with few specifics, starting with a "resolve to defend the principles, values and institutions of democracy and open societies, which drive our own national strength and our alliances."
The two leaders also pledge to "strengthen the institutions, laws and norms that sustain international cooperation to adapt them to meet the new challenges of the 21st century."
One senior administration official described the document as "a profound statement of purpose of democracy," coming at a time when Biden has repeatedly outlined an existential struggle for the future of the globe between democracy and autocracy.
The agreement falls short of the independent U.S.-U.K. trade deal that Johnson wants now that Brexit is complete. Biden has indicated that he could withhold such a deal over concerns that Johnson's government is undermining the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement that ended three decades of sectarian conflict.
"Any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.
The Biden administration authorized a highly unusual warning from the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Britain over the issue last week. The Times newspaper reported that U.S. diplomat Yael Lempert warned Johnson's government against further "inflaming" tensions.
Johnson said that the U.S. president did not push him on the issue during their meeting on Thursday, but said that maintaining peace in Northern Ireland and supporting the Good Friday Agreement was "absolutely common ground" between Washington and London.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said both nations would "reaffirm their commitment to working closely with all parties to the Agreement to protect its delicate balance and realise its vision for reconciliation, consent, equality, respect for rights, and parity of esteem."
Biden's Irish Catholic heritage is a central feature of his long political career. He opposed Brexit in part on principle, since it cleaved a major economy and U.S. ally from the European Union, and partly out of concern that it would reopen wounds with Ireland, which remains part of the E.U.
Irish officials have said they welcomed the Biden administration's focus on the dispute over the border with Northern Ireland, with prime minister Micheál Martin calling the U.S. president's interest in the issue a significant development.
"I think he is saying to the United Kingdom, 'Let's do the sensible thing here,'" Martin told reporters on Thursday, broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann reported.
Britain is trying to negotiate a new agreement with the E.U. over goods crossing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Negotiations face a June 30 deadline.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden are also set to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle on Sunday.
During a meeting between Johnson and his new wife, Carrie, and the Bidens, Jill Biden sported a black blazer with the word "LOVE" emblazoned across the back - a fashion choice that could be interpreted as a dig at former first lady Melania Trump, who in 2018 infamously traveled to a migrant children detention center in Texas wearing a jacket with "I really don't care. Do U?" printed across the back.
Jill Biden's message, too, offered a stark contrast to the sentiment Trump routinely brought to such gatherings.
"I think that we're bringing love from America," the first lady said. "This is a global conference, and we are trying to bring unity across the globe and I think it's needed right now, that people feel a sense of unity from all the countries and feel a sense hope after this year of the pandemic."
Johnson shares a populist worldview with Trump, who cheered Johnson's rise as a champion of a divorce with the European Union. That relationship hangs over Johnson's meeting with Biden, whose first foreign trip is otherwise dominated by meetings with European leaders who are relieved to be rid of Trump. Another exception comes at the end of Biden's tour, when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Geneva.
The series of international gatherings that Biden is attending - the G-7, a NATO summit and a summit with European Union leaders - come as the United States and Europe emerge from the pandemic much faster than most of the rest of the world, prompting some criticism of "vaccine apartheid."
In the phone call with reporters, senior administration officials described the U.S. donation of 500 million vaccines as both "the right thing to do" and in U.S. national security interests to help stem a deadly pandemic that does not respect geographical boundaries.
The officials stressed the robust effort to distribute vaccines to some of the hardest-hit countries around the world is "tangible proof" that democratic countries are leading the effort to beat the deadly pandemic.
Part of Biden's unofficial mission on his first foreign sojourn is to help improve America's standing abroad, an impression that has improved since he took office, according to a Pew Research Center global survey released Thursday.
In a dozen countries surveyed over the past two years, 62%of the respondents now have a favorable view of the United States, compared to 34% at the end of Trump's four years, Pew found. Pew also found that 75% of those surveyed expressed confidence in Biden to "do the right thing regarding world affairs," compared to 17% for the final year of Trump.
The White House has also stressed the symbolic importance of Biden's meetings with a string of democratic leaders before he sees the authoritarian Putin.
"These bonds of history and shared sacrifice run deep and are strong, based on values, and they endure," Biden said Wednesday night as he addressed U.S. troops stationed at an air base in Britain.
"You are the essential part of what makes up this 'special relationship' between Great Britain and the United States," Biden continued, using an affectionate term for the U.S.-U.K. bond. The term is often credited to Churchill.
Johnson is known to dislike the term "special relationship," considering it slightly demeaning and making the United Kingdom seem needy and weak.
"The prime minister is on the record previously saying he prefers not to use the phrase, but that in no way detracts from the importance with which we regard our relationship with the U.S., our closest ally," a spokesperson for Johnson said earlier this week.
Johnson may have also disliked what Biden went on to say to the U.S. troops and families gathered at RAF Mildenhall, a British air base in Suffolk. The president quoted Irish poet William Butler Yeats, although he did not identify either the poet or the work by name.
"'The world's changed, changed utterly,'" Biden said, quoting Yeats. "'A terrible beauty has been born.'"
The line is from "Easter 1916," which is about the Irish rebellion against English rule.