WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden arrived in Europe Wednesday on his first overseas trip as the U.S. leader, set to hold high-level talks with other Western heads of state before meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Geneva.
The first stop was at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, where he addressed U.S. troops.
“To all you airmen and soldiers, I want to say, thank you. We owe you. We’re so damned proud of you,” Biden said.
He also took a swipe at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he will meet later in the trip.
“I’ve been clear — the United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities,” Biden said.
The president also said he will be reassuring allies about the U.S. role in the world.
“At every step of the way, we will let everyone know that the United States is back.”
As he boarded Air Force One, Biden said his goals for the trip were strengthening ties with allies, while “making it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight.”
Biden also said he would be announcing a new strategy for vaccinating the world against the coronavirus pandemic.
News outlets later reported that the U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to donate to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union over the next year. The U.S. has vaccinated more than half of its adult population, but impoverished countries are trailing far behind that level of inoculation.
The U.S. plan calls for donation of 200 million doses — enough to fully vaccinate 100 million people — by the end of this year, with the remainder sent overseas in the first half of 2022.
As the president left for Britain, the White House said the trip “will highlight America’s commitment to rallying the world’s democracies, coming together to shape the rules of the road for the 21st century, defend our values and tackle the world’s biggest challenges.”
Biden is holding talks Thursday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson before attending the G-7 summit of leading industrial nations in Cornwall, Britain, from Friday to Sunday.
He and first lady Jill Biden are also meeting Sunday with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle before leaving for a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday.
While in the Belgian capital, Biden will hold separate talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO ally who has angered Washington by his go-it-alone stance in buying a Russian-made air defense system that is incompatible with NATO’s.
On Tuesday, Biden meets with Belgian King Philippe and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, as well as attending a U.S.-European Union summit.
In Geneva on Wednesday, Biden is meeting with Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin before his potentially contentious sit-down with Putin — the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face since Biden became president.
Throughout his trip, Biden said he hopes to present a different view of the U.S. than former President Donald Trump, who often contended that NATO allies were not for the most part contributing their fair share to support the seven-decade-old Western military alliance.
The White House said Biden would “affirm the United States’ commitment to NATO, trans-Atlantic security and collective defense.”
At the G-7 summit, the White House said Biden “will reinforce our commitment to multilateralism, work to advance key U.S. policy priorities on public health, economic recovery and inclusive growth, and demonstrate solidarity and shared values among major democracies.”
Meeting with Putin
Biden’s relations with Putin are already strained.
Trump held Putin blameless of allegations that Russia intruded in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump’s election victory.
In contrast, Biden, in early phone conversations with Putin, has bluntly told the Russian leader the U.S. holds the Kremlin responsible for election interference, a massive cyberattack on U.S. government agencies and the poisoning of Putin opponent Alexey Navalny. Each country has expelled some of the other’s diplomats from Moscow and Washington.
In a television interview, Biden also said he considered Putin to be a “killer,” a claim Putin quickly turned against the U.S. by citing its slaughter of Native Americans in the 18th century settlement of the country, and deadly abuse of minorities throughout its history.
VOA’s White House correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this story.