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Biden To Talk About Foreign Policy As Russia, Myanmar Crises Flare


When he was campaigning for president, Joe Biden made clear that he wanted to bury Donald Trump's America-first approach to foreign policy. Today, Biden will give his first foreign policy speech as president. And we'll hear some of how he plans to do that. There are currently two crises of democracy unfolding, a coup in Myanmar and Russia's detention of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, that could give us a sense of how Biden will operate. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is following this story. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What do we expect in this speech today?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, part of this is to thank career foreign service officers for sticking through the Trump era. These are people who Trump viewed with great suspicion, what he called the deep state of people who didn't share his views. There is a lot of anticipation about this speech. What will he say about China, for example? We've not seen him have a call with President Xi yet. But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told us yesterday that we should expect this speech to be broad. And she said that he is not going to lay out his vision for every burning foreign policy issue.

KING: Two of the burning issues, Myanmar and Russia, both in very perilous places at this moment, do we know whether Biden will address either of those, both of those?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he has already spoken out about Navalny's detention in Russia and the coup in Myanmar. And he's looking at his options, none of which, by the way, are easy. But they are both going to be tests of his appetite to work with international partners to confront these kind of issues. Biden's team has so far been focused on domestic problems like COVID-19 and racial equity. Yet how he handles the crises in Russia and Myanmar will speak to how quickly he'll turn the page on Trump's unilateral America-first approach and how he'll lead on promoting democracy around the world.

KING: The relationship between Russia and the U.S. is always three dimensional chess. Biden just extended the New START nuclear agreement with Russia. What does that tell us?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. So Russia is an example where Biden wants to work with leaders even as he counters them in some other areas. Here's Charles Kupchan, who was a senior adviser in the Obama administration talking about that.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: And we already saw him walk that tightrope in his call with Vladimir Putin, because on the one hand, he wants to extend a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia. On the other hand, he wants to stand up to Putin on Navalny, on the SolarWinds hacking, also on Ukraine.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, he said there's a balance. And there are other issues, like climate change, where Biden needs cooperation from China even as he criticizes China over human rights and trade.

KING: Now, while all of this is happening, Biden is clearly aware that many countries are questioning just how stable our democracy is after the insurrection on January 6.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, no doubt. There is really no question that the riot last month shocked leaders around the world just as it shocked Americans. I spoke with John Simon, a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union. He said Biden really needs to show that he's standing up for democracy here in the United States as well as globally.

JOHN SIMON: Biden, first and foremost, has to stand up for sound governance in this country. Part of what he has to do is sort of show that January 6 was an aberration and not the beginning of an unraveling of our own democratic norms.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, this is something that we are likely to hear more about next week during the impeachment trial of former President Trump. And frankly, Noel, it's also something that's kind of been hanging over the start of Biden's first few weeks in office.

KING: Sure is. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.