Biden hails ‘new era of relentless diplomacy’ in UN address

US pledges to double funds to address climate crisis in developing nations

US President Joe Biden told the United Nations General Assembly he would work with Congress to double funds for helping developing nations deal with climate change. Video: PBS

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US president Joe Biden pledged to replace “relentless war” with “a new era of relentless diplomacy” in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr Biden referenced his country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan: “As I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years the United States is not at war. We’ve turned the page.”

He promised that the “unmatched strength” and resources of the US “are now fully and squarely focused on what’s ahead of us, not what was behind”.

Mr Biden told other world leaders that the US would spend $10 billion to fight hunger and that he would seek to double US funds to help developing nations respond to climate change to more than $11 billion per year.

China meanwhile, offered its own pledge on climate change with president Xi Jinping announcing that his country would stop building coal-fired power plants abroad and instead “step up support” for developing countries in the areas of green and low-carbon energy.

Mr Biden’s speech is a decisive shift away from the “America first” foreign policy approach of his predecessor Donald Trump, but comes at a time of lingering criticism over the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and concern about growing tensions with China.

He said, “US military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first”.

“Indeed today many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms.”

Mr Biden said “bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19” and that there must be a “a collective act of science and political will” and action to get vaccines “in arms as fast as possible”.

In what is believed to be a reference to China, Mr Biden also said the US is “not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs”.

Climate and security

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who attended the assembly session in New York, welcomed the “strong themes” of climate action and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Mr Biden’s speech, saying they “dovetail” with Ireland’s approach to foreign policy.

He said the sense he got from contributions at the assembly was of “a growing momentum to do much better than we have been on the climate change issue”.

Mr Martin will chair a UN Security Council meeting on the subject of climate and security on Thursday. He held bilateral meetings with leaders from Nigeria, Colombia and Vietnam among others. He gave an undertaking to the Vietnamese president Nguyen Xuan Phuc that he would raise the country’s request for assistance in sourcing Covid-19 vaccines at EU level.

Mr Martin also met European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven. They discussed the need to hasten global vaccine distribution and work on EU-US relations.

The three leaders agreed Mr Biden’s plan to double support to address climate change in developing countries was a “major step forward”.