Biden leaves for New Delhi as polls raise questions about his 2024 run
President Joe Biden departed Thursday for the G20 Leaders Summit in New Delhi, India after days of speculation over whether the president would catch COVID-19 from his wife and scrap the trip. The maskless commander-in-chief didn’t take questions from the press as he boarded Air Force One through the lower steps.
His trip begins just 24 hours after the Department of Justice warned they would seek to indict his son Hunter on gun charges by the end of the month , and he faced criticism from 9/11 families for marking Monday’s 22nd anniversary of the attacks in Alaska. And more poll results released by CNN on Thursday morning show the majority of voters – including Democrats – think he is too old to run, and he is neck-and neck with Donald Trump . ‘We think this will be an important milestone moment for global cooperation at a critical time,’ National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route.
He indicated that a potential joint statement between the leaders wasn’t yet ready, amid early indications that China or Russia might block it. ‘There is still some distance to travel before a final communique is released to the public or agreed among the leaders,’ he said. He said China was seeking to ‘hold climate hostage’ by linking it to unrelated issues. Leaders were also working on a potential infrastructure deal between the U.S., India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia . ‘We believe that connectivity from India across the Middle East to Europe is incredibly important and would bring a significant number of economic benefits, as well as strategic benefits, to all of the countries involved,’ Sullivan said.
While press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that there were no ‘contingency plans’ being made if Biden had to skip, the White House didn’t reveal too much of Biden’s schedule either. He’s expected to meet with the G20’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after Air Force One lands Friday and then attend G20 sessions Saturday and Sunday before jetting off to Vietnam. One addition that popped up on his schedule is a visit to the John McCain memorial in Hanoi. The two men were friends in the Senate. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan wouldn’t say Tuesday if Biden planned to hold bilateral meetings with two of the most controversial leaders expected to attend – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping the meeting of the world’s richest economies amid the Ukraine invasion – sending Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his stead – while Chinese President Xi Jinping is sitting the summit out amid tensions with host country India. Last week, China and India got into a diplomatic tiff over an ‘official map’ released by China that claimed lands along the Himalayas that Indian officials say belong to them. Xi is sending Premier Li Qiang in his place, Beijing announced Monday. At the briefing Tuesday, Sullivan encouraged the Chinese delegation to still play ball, despite Xi’s summit snub. ‘As far as the question of tensions between India and China affecting the summit: Really, that’s up to China,’ Sullivan said. ‘If China wants to come in and play the role of spoiler, of course, that option is available to them.’
Sullivan encouraged the Chinese to come to the summit ‘in a constructive way’ and work with other nations on the issues of ‘climate, on multilateral development bank reform, on debt relief, on technology’ and ‘set aside the geopolitical questions.’ One of the top summit agenda items for the U.S. is World Bank reform, scaling up the lender to provide funds for climate and infrastructure projects. This move is strategic in that it could move some developing economies toward Western nations and away from the Chinese Communist Party’s lending practices, which the White House called ‘coercive and unsustainable’ when asking Congress in late August for $3.3 billion in additional funding.
At the G7 in May in Hiroshima, Japan, some of the planned topics of discussion were overshadowed by the Ukraine war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured right) made a surprise visit to the summit, meeting with Biden and the other leaders of the top industrialized nations. The dynamic will be slightly different at the G20 – in part because Zelensky wasn’t invited by India. India has not condemned the Ukraine war as harshly as the United States and its top allies, as Russia is an important trading partner, though Modi did meet with Zelensky on the sidelines of the G7 in Japan. Also while Russia was expelled from the then-G8 in March 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, territory previously held by Ukraine, it remains a member of the G20.
Lavrov will be filling in for Putin during this weekend’s Leaders’ Summit, as the Russian leader hasn’t traveled outside the country since the International Criminal Court in March issued a warrant for his arrest over war crimes, including the removal of Ukrainian children to Russia. Lavrov has been on a world tour this week, appearing at the ASEAN summit in Jakarta, Indonesia – which was also attended by Vice President Kamala Harris. Sullivan predicted there would be a ‘continued focus on how the G20 deals with Russia’s illegal and ongoing war in Ukraine. The reality is that Russia’s illegal war has had devastating social and economic consequences, and the poorest counties on the planet are bearing the brunt of that,’ Sullivan pointed out.
With Putin and Xi skipping the G20, no meeting of Biden’s will be more closely watched than if he decides to sit down with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the summit. Late last month, Axios reported that Biden was considering meeting with MBS, according to four sources in the know. Sullivan wouldn’t cement anything when asked about MBS – and Erdoğan – on Tuesday. ‘I’m not going to speak to how the schedule will shape up over the course of the coming days,’ the national security adviser said. Sullivan said there was a ‘certain dynamic element’ to G20 scheduling, meaning that some of the meetings ‘will likely be announced at the last minute.’ ‘And we will do our darndest to make sure that they are done in a way where the U.S. press has the ability to participate in them,’ he told the reporters in the briefing room.
On the table, potentially, is a ‘mega-deal’ between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that could lead to Saudi and Israel normalizing relations. It would be a historic breakthrough for Mideast peace. Officials told Axios that the administration is trying to finish its diplomatic push before the 2024 presidential election ramps up. While those sources pointed to how much of Biden’s time his reelection campaign will eat up, Saudi relations are not popular among swaths of the U.S. Besides the country’s poor treatment of women, there was the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
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