Struggling at Home, Biden Is Buoyed by G20 Trip Abroad

ROME – President Biden capped a long weekend of diplomacy on Sunday with a boastful proclamation of America’s renewed strength on the world stage, claiming credit for what he called progress on climate change, tax avoidance and Iran’s nuclear ambitions at the end of a Group of 20 summit that was missing some of its biggest global adversaries.

Encouraged by a three-day return to the interpersonal negotiations that have defined his political career and still emotionally overcome by a long Friday. audience with Pope FrancisBiden brushed off questions about his weak poll numbers in the country and projected new optimism for his shaky national policy agenda.

He acknowledged the contradictions and obstacles to his long-term ambitions on issues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions with a smile. And he called for significant progress from a summit that produced a major victory for his administration: endorsement of a global pact to set minimum corporate tax rates, along with an agreement between the United States and Europe that will lift tariffs, including those on European steel and aluminum.

In other areas, such as climate change and the restoration of a nuclear deal with Iran, the summit produced few concrete actions.

But the president repeatedly told reporters that the weekend had demonstrated the power of American engagement on the world stage and that he had renewed deteriorating relations with his predecessor, Donald J. Trump.

“They listened,” Biden said. “They all looked for me. They wanted to know what our opinions were. We help lead what happened here. The United States of America is the most critical part of this entire agenda and we did it. “

During his vacation in Rome, Biden tried to fix relations with the French by a soured submarine deal, to enjoy the blessing of the tax treatment that his administration crossed the line after years of talks, and to push for more ambitious climate commitments before a world conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to which he traveled next.

The president left behind the chaos and disappointments of Washington, where recent polls show voter disapproval is increasing over his performance in office and that Democrats remain divided on a pair of bills that would spend a combined $ 3 trillion to advance its broad national agenda. . Survey conducted by NBC News shows that seven out of 10 Americans and nearly half of Democrats believe America is going in the wrong direction.

But after days of indulging in diplomacy patting on the back at a time when bipartisan cooperation is lacking at home, Biden stepped out to his press conference on Sunday in hopes that both bills would pass. by the House next week and downplaying the polls.

“Polls will go up and down and up and down,” Biden said. “Look at all the other presidents. The same thing has happened. But that’s not why I ran. “

One of the reasons Biden sought the presidency, after more than four decades as a senator and vice president, was for meetings like the Group of 20, where he can practice the politics of meat pressure that he has long enjoyed. .

World leaders have been slow to meet in person as the pandemic has dragged into its second year, but Biden attended a meeting of the Group of 7 in England in June that was something of a diplomatic icebreaker for rich countries. The summit in Rome brought together a larger group of leaders, although some of Biden’s biggest rivals on the world stage, such as Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, stayed home.

Biden and other world leaders said the return to the in-person talks changed the dynamic.

Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister whose country hosted the summit, told a news conference that attendees were more willing than in the past to tackle climate change, inequality and other issues that would require collective action to fix them.

“Something changed,” Draghi said.

Biden held hour-long meetings at the summit with leaders of diverse influence.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong scored 80 minutes. On Sunday, Mr. Biden also met with the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey on the sidelines, emerging with a shared promise to continue to engage in a series of disagreements, largely in light of Turkey’s influence in several critical regions, including Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Biden said there were no substitutes for “Looking someone directly in the eye when trying to do something.”

But in many areas, the summit produced more rhetoric than action.

An agreement reached by leaders on Sunday pledged to end funding for coal-fired power plants in countries outside their own and “continue efforts” to keep the average global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end. of this century.

“We remain committed to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global average temperature rise well below 2 ° C and continuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels,” said the leaders in a statement.

The lack of further breakthroughs angered activists and heralded the hardships Biden could face when he attends a high-stakes climate convention in Glasgow starting Monday.

Biden admitted the irony in another push he made at the summit – for oil and gas producing countries to increase production to cut costs for driving and heating, at a time when he is also urging the world to move away from fossils. fuels. But he said the transition from oil and gas to low-emission alternatives would not happen immediately and that, in the meantime, he sought to insulate consumers from price shocks.

The summit’s climate commitments drew swift criticism from environmental activists. Jennifer Morgan, CEO of Greenpeace International, called the agreement between the leaders “weak” and said it “lacked ambition and vision.” Jörn Kalinski, Oxfam’s senior adviser, said it was “quiet, unambitious and lacking in concrete plans.”

Biden offered only gradual progress on the issue of tangled global supply chains, which was the subject of a side meeting of 14 countries he hosted on Sunday afternoon. Biden announced that he was signing an executive order on defense stocks that “will allow us to react and respond more quickly to deficiencies” in supply chains.

He too announced a deal to reduce tariffs on European steel and aluminum, an agreement between the United States and the European Union that he said would benefit American consumers and “show the world that democracies are taking on tough problems and offering solid solutions.”

There were no resolutions on a protracted dispute over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Erdogan has refused to step back from the purchase, despite sanctions and expulsion from a US defense program to develop the F-35 stealth fighter. And Biden refused to allow Erdogan to buy F-16 fighter jets to upgrade his fleet with money he had already spent on F-35s.

But as his press conference ended, the engagement Biden lingered on the longest was the one that started his journey: his meeting with Pope Francis.

Asked by a journalist about criticism from some conservative American Catholics that public officials like Biden, who are Catholic but support legal access to abortion, should be denied communion, Biden said the issue and his meeting with the Pope were “personal.”

The pope, Biden said Friday, called him a “good Catholic” and said he should continue to receive communion.

On Sunday, Biden launched into a long reflection on his relationship with Francis and his admiration for him. He recounted how the Pope had counseled his family after the death of Biden’s eldest son Beau, a tragedy he equated with losing “a real part of my soul.”

Choking at times, Biden said the Pope had become “someone who has provided great comfort to my family when my son died.”

The two men, Biden added, are keeping in touch.

He left the stage without asking any more questions.

Carlotta Gall, Jason Horowitz and Somini Sengupta contributed reporting.

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