President Biden urges unity in first UN speech amid tensions with allies

·4 min read

In his first address to the United Nations, US President Joe Biden has urged global cooperation through "a decisive decade for our world".

His calls for unity come amid tensions with allies over the US' Afghanistan withdrawal and a major diplomatic row with France over a submarine deal.

The US also announced it was doubling its climate finance pledge by 2024.

Reaffirming his support for democracy and diplomacy, Mr Biden said: "We must work together like never before."

The 76th General Assembly in New York City takes place against the backdrop of a climate crisis and a once-in-a-century pandemic, both of which have sharpened global divides.

Mr Biden pushed for cooperation on these fronts, saying: "Whether we choose to fight for our shared future or not will reverberate for generations to come. Simply put, we stand, in my view, at an inflection point in history."

What else did Biden say?

Mr Biden on Tuesday stressed that the US is "not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs".

The US, he said, "is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreements in other areas".

The remark appeared to be a response to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who this weekend warned the US and China were headed for "a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage".

The president also touted the pullout from Afghanistan, which has been criticised by allies at home and abroad, saying the US was ending a "period of relentless war" for a "new era of relentless diplomacy".

Mr Biden offered a key pledge on climate finance as well, saying the US will increase funding for developing countries to $11.4bn (£8.3bn) by 2024. This means the US will offer just over half of the European Union's pledge to help poorer nations cope with climate change.

The developed world had pledged to provide these countries $100bn a year by 2020 but this has still not been achieved.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who is meeting with Mr Biden later on Tuesday - praised the "massive contribution" and said the US had "stepped up to the plate".

At the end of his first address, Mr Biden promised that the US would lead "with our allies".

"We will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time, from Covid to climate, human dignity and human rights, but we will not go it alone," he said.

Why are allies sceptical?

World leaders at odds with former President Donald Trump had hoped for a more stable and reliable America under his successor's leadership - but Mr Biden's most recent foreign policy moves have made some uneasy.

The US' lack of coordination during the Afghanistan exit after two decades of war rankled allies and led to an international scramble to evacuate. The Nato mission at the time of the withdrawal comprised troops from 36 countries, three-quarters of whom were non-American.

Last week, a trilateral US-UK deal to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines infuriated the French, who had their own five-year-old contract to build conventional submarines for the Australians. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the agreement as "a stab in the back", and the top French diplomats in both countries were recalled.

The Biden administration has also seen international criticism over alleged US hoarding of Covid-19 vaccines and non-reciprocal travel restrictions, as well as frugality with climate aid.

A speech to reassure America's allies

Analysis box by Jon Sopel, North America editor
Analysis box by Jon Sopel, North America editor

After four years of America First and Donald Trump's isolationist nationalism, this was a speech the leaders of the liberal democracies wanted to cheer. But Joe Biden's first appearance before the UN General Assembly will be treated with a good deal of scepticism after America's shambolic departure from Afghanistan.

That said, the US president was determined to push his more outward looking view of the world. And turning a page, he was able to say this was the first time in 20 years that America wasn't at war.

British diplomats will have cheered his pledge to double to $11.4bn the money to tackle climate change by 2024 - something they have been lobbying the White House relentlessly on.

One issue that enjoys bipartisan support in Washington is the threat posed by China - the driving force behind the new security partnership with Britain and Australia. He didn't mention the world's other superpower by name, but it's clear who he was talking about.

The US president has had a torrid, horrid summer. This speech was an attempt to reassure America's international allies - and to put flesh on the bones of his claim that "America is back".

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