President Biden, declaring that "America is back," delivered his first diplomatic address as president Thursday. He outlined several policies that reverse those of the Trump administration, and one that also breaks with an Obama administration policy that he helped shape, the New York Times reports. Biden, calling Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen's civil war a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe," announced that the US will end its support for the Saudi offensive, including arms sales tied to that offensive. "This war must end," said Biden, who has appointed diplomat Timothy Lenderking to negotiate a peace deal. Barack Obama offered US support when Saudi Arabia intervened against Houthi rebels in 2015. More:
- Kingdom isn't being totally cut off. Biden said Saudi Arabia would "pay the price" for human rights abuses, but also said he would "continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty" with the sale of the defensive weapons it uses to safeguard itself from Iran. Steven Cook, a Middle East researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, tells the AP that promising to help the kingdom boost its defenses could provide "face-saving cover" for the Saudis to exit the Yemen conflict, and convince them that "to declare victory and go home is really the only way."
- "Horrific humanitarian crisis." The Yemen conflict has caused what UNICEF says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Sen. Chris Murphy, an early critic of US involvement, was among those applauding Biden's stance. "For the last six years, the war in Yemen has led to a horrific humanitarian crisis that has hurt US security and moral credibility," the Democrat said in a statement. "Today’s actions by President Biden are a decisive first step to bring this nightmare to an end."
- A harder line on Russia. Biden urged Russia to free opposition activist Alexei Navalny and vowed to take a much harder line on Russian actions than Trump did. He said that when he spoke to Vladimir Putin last week, he told his Russian counterpart "in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions—interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens—are over," the Times reports.
- "Pushing back" on China. Biden spent less time talking about China, though he called the country America's "most serious competitor" and said he wouldn't go easy on Beijing, the Washington Post reports. "We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action, to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance," the president said, adding: "But we’re ready to work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interest to do so."
- "Moral leadership." Biden vowed that the US would "rebuild what has been so badly damaged" and restore America's "moral leadership on refugee issues," CNN reports. He said the refugee cap Trump set at 15,000 for this fiscal year will be returned to 125,000 in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2021. Biden also said US agencies will also be asked to "reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues, and do it internationally."
- Germany troop withdrawal frozen. Biden confirmed that the withdrawal of 12,000 US troops from Germany—ordered by Trump as payback for Germany's failure to raise defense spending—will be frozen, the Hill reports. He said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will lead a "global force posture review" to ensure "our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities."
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