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Background Press Call Previewing President Biden's Trip to North Africa and Asia

November 08, 2022

Via Teleconference

3:09 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, everyone, for joining. As a reminder, this call is on background. It's attributable to senior administration officials. And the contents of the call are embargoed until the call ends.

We wanted to take an opportunity to give you guys some thoughts on the coming travel and then also take some questions.

As you guys know, we're going to have more information to share with you on other bilats and events as we get closer to the trip, but just wanted to be able to start the conversation sooner rather than later.

So, for your awareness and not for reporting, our speakers on the call today are [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official].

So we're going to do some remarks at the top. We're going to go through each leg of the trip, so just bear with us. And then we'll take as many questions as we can.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So, the President will head to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Friday, where the U.N. Climate Conference -- COP27 -- is underway.

While he's on the ground, he'll give a special address about our efforts to build on the unprecedented work by the U.S. to reduce emissions and advance the global climate fight, and help the most vulnerable build resilience to climate impacts.

And the President will also have a bilateral meeting with President El-Sisi of Egypt, who, of course, is hosting the COP.

The Biden administration is proud to be heading into this COP with historic momentum. We've seen the United States go from a global laggard to a global leader in less than 18 months.

And last year, President Biden set an ambitious goal of reducing emissions by about -- by at least, rather, 50 percent in 2030. And that's from a 2005 baseline. And this year, we're on track to do that.

Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and more, we're really well-positioned to meet the goals that we've set in a way that we've never been in the past.

We also just saw the Senate vote on a bipartisan basis to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which in itself could help prevent a half-degree Celsius of warming this century.

The President will arrive in Sharm at the end of what they call "high-level week." And his speech will be an opportunity to set the tone for the following week, where the negotiations really get underway in earnest.

He'll have the opportunity to showcase U.S. leadership in tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad and to demonstrate how we're mobilizing unprecedented levels of public and private finance to partner with developing countries in reducing their emissions and, in particular, in adapting to climate impacts, as well as the efforts that we're leading to decarbonize the so-called "hard to abate" sectors like shipping, and to drive multilateral progress through a number of targeted efforts such as the Global Methane Pledge, which the President announced last year.

And the President will also speak to the need for the 196 parties to the Paris Agreement to really keep their eyes on the ball when it comes to accelerating ambitious action to reduce emissions, to keep within reach the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. We need to remain focused.

So, a lot to cover, but it'll be an important visit at a really critical time. So I'll turn it over to you, [senior administration official]. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for that laydown. I am here. Sorry, I forgot to unmute myself.

So, after Sharm, the President will travel to Pnom Penh, Cambodia, from November 12th to 13th to participate in the annual U.S.-ASEAN Summit on November 12th and then the East Asia Summit on November 13th.

The President will also have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, which is the 2022 chair of ASEAN.

And I think that, you know, this reflects a following through on an institutionalization of the very stepped-up engagement with ASEAN and with Southeast Asia that we have seen so far in the administration.

And I would just remind everyone that in May -- so, last year, at the end of October, the President spoke at the virtual U.S.-ASEAN Summit and virtual East Asia Summit meetings that took place at the end of October, chaired by Brunei, which did not have in-person attendance. And then, in May, the President hosted the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, which was held for the first time in Washington, D.C., and included dinner at the White House.

I think those two engagements -- so last October, the President announced over $100 million in investments in things that are significant for U.S.-ASEAN relations, significantly expanding our cooperation on health, climate, science and innovation, trade facilitation, education, and more.

And then, in May, the President announced $150 million in additional funding in many of these same areas, including trying to step up our engagement in the maritime domain.

I think that we see this as following through on the administration's commitment to the Indo-Pacific, which I'm sure you saw was highlighted as a top priority in the National Security Strategy. And -- but it also reflects the very strong and longstanding U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region that goes back centuries and was really stepped up, obviously, at the end of World War Two.

I think that in Cambodia you can see the President lay out our vision for keeping up a pace of enhanced engagement and trying to also address concerns of importance to ASEAN in ways that they -- that they are looking for.

And so we'll also focus on efforts to promote respect for human rights, rule of law, and good governance, the rules-based international order, and also to address the ongoing crisis in Burma.

I would just note that this follows as part of a broader level of engagements in the region that include the President traveling to Korea and Japan in May -- the host -- the in-person Quad leaders meeting that took place in Tokyo in May -- the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework; the engagements with the Pacific Islands, including the Vice President's virtual address to the Pacific Islands Summit; as well as the hosting of the U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit in the -- at the end of September.

Also, the Vice President's travel to Korea -- to Japan and Korea. And then, as I'm sure you saw, the Vice President will also be going to Thailand for APEC as well, so the Philippines.

So in our -- and this is just in addition to a whole host of engagements and visits in both directions at the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels.

So I think that we also want to highlight the enduring commitment to the rules-based international order, including in the South China Sea, as well as talk about the importance of peace and stability throughout the region, including, of course, across the Taiwan Strait.

So, with all these things, we feel like this is a good way to continue to advance and to really show that we're serious about institutionalizing the stepped-up levels of engagement.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. [Senior administration official], over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [moderator]. So, I'm going to talk about the President's time in Bali and, in particular, around the G20.

Since coming into office, President Biden has been focused on delivering for American families and building a resilient global economy.

Thanks to the President's economic plans, we have driven a historically strong economic recovery and given families at home breathing room while also serving as the engine of (inaudible).

You all know the history of the G20: Fourteen years ago, as we faced a global financial crisis, the G20 came together as a result of U.S. leadership and allowed the world's major economies to not only enable us to recover together, but also to create a more resilient global financial system.

Today, we face challenges as well: a global economy that faces serious headwinds as a result of Russia's war against Ukraine, with rising food and energy prices impacting low- and middle-income countries the most.

The President will head to Bali to work with G20 partners to lay the foundations for a more sustainable and inclusive global economy that will support American families and vulnerable countries and economies alike.

He will begin his time in Bali with a bilateral meeting with our G20 host, President Widodo of Indonesia. He will thank President Widodo and Indonesia for the incredible work that they are doing to host a successful G20 and to underscore the importance of the U.S.-Indonesia Strategic Partnership.

I can just say, in terms of my own travels to Indonesia as part of the G20 process, that focus, that energy, that leadership from Indonesia has been on full display. And I know that the President looks forwards to visiting and seeing that firsthand.

G20 leaders will focus on a broad, in-depth agenda over the course of their few days together. And I can guarantee you that the United States will show up and be at the table. We will be unapologetic in our defense of Ukraine. We will be unapologetic in calling out Russia for its brutal war. And we will also work closely with our partners to address the impacts of the war.

As we think about the President's affirmative agenda with the G20, I'd highlight three broad categories.

One is, you know, working to address the immediate impacts of Russia's war on the global economy. And, obviously, here, food security and energy security are the top of that list and will continue to be.

Secondly, I think you'll hear the President talk about investing in the inclusive economies of the future, around delivering game-changing projects to leverage private financing and close the infrastructure gap between the advanced economies and the rest of the world.

In fact, President Biden will co-host an event at the G20 Summit in which the United States and partners will be advancing the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, PGII.

This is an effort, as many of you know, that was launched this summer in Elmau, alongside the G7, to mobilize $600 billion in financing over five years in low- and middle-income countries.

The President will announce new projects to deliver quality, sustainable infrastructure that makes a difference in people's lives around the world, strengthens and diversifies our supply chains, creates new opportunities for American workers and businesses, and advances our national security, in addition to lifting up and providing opportunity to economies around the world as well.

And then, lastly, you know, you'll hear the President talking about steps we can take to build a new economic ecosystem where every nation gets a fair shot. This includes important issues like debt relief for vulnerable countries. Obviously, we've seen significant headwinds gathering, especially for vulnerable lower- and middle-income countries. Debt is an important part of that equation. I expect the President will speak to that.

This agenda includes leveraging the multilateral development banks to fund global challenges. And it also includes issues like global health, including the U.S. and our $450 million pledge to the pandemic fund to close the global gap in financing for pandemic preparedness.

So, countries representing more than 80 percent of the world's GDP will be in one place for the G20 Summit. President Biden has demonstrated again and again that we'll focus not just on building prosperity for our people, but people everywhere around the world.

We believe, the President believes it's critical for the G20 to act in this critical moment and that there's a plan to do just that when the President arrives in Bali next week.

I'll go ahead and pause and hand this back to [moderator].

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, guys. If we could ask our moderator to please give out the directions to ask a question, please.

(Instructions given to ask questions.)

Q: Thank you. I had a question about two of the three bilats that you announced, with El-Sisi in Egypt and then Cambodia. Will the President bring up Alaa Abd El-Fattah's case in Egypt as well as Theary Seng's case, who's a U.S. citizen, in Cambodia?

And then secondly, is there any other bilats that you guys can speak of that are being set up for any of the summits, including the one we've been anticipating with Xi Jinping?

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can take the first question about the Egypt bilat. Obviously, the President is attending COP27 to build on the significant work the U.S. has undertaken to advance the global climate fight and help the most vulnerable build resilience.

He'll be engaging with Egyptian leaders to discuss developments in the Middle East and the U.S. commitment to stability through broader-integration diplomacy to end conflicts in the region and deescalate tensions.

Human rights will feature prominently in those discussions, as the Biden administration is the first not to issue a national security waiver for the FMF funding on human rights grounds. And we have and will continue to urge the Egyptian government to release political prisoners and undertake human rights-related legal reforms. And this process has had some significant success, but we aim to see more progress over the coming months.

And to the case of the Alaa Abd El-Fattah, we remain concerned about that case and the reported condition of his health. And we have raised repeated concerns about his case and his conditions in detention with the government of Egypt.

As the President has stated repeatedly, he will never shy away from raising human rights with foreign leaders.

[Senior administration official], I don't know if you have anything you want to add on to (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just absolutely agree with what was just said. And I think that, you know, we don't want to get ahead of the actual discussion. But I think you can anticipate that the President will raise our views on the importance of supporting the aspirations of the Cambodian people for a prosperous, democratic, independent country, and the importance of respect for human rights, including, I think, that -- you know, our concern about some specific cases.

So, I don't want to get ahead of it, but I think that you can certainly expect that that would be the intention to raise.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say, in terms of any other news on additional bilats, there's nothing additional to report at this time.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

Q: Hey, guys, thanks for doing this. Two about Cairo. One, can I just follow up the question about Alaa? Will the President call for Egypt to release Alaa, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did in his meeting with President Sisi?

And I want to ask about climate and loss and damage. I know Special Envoy Kerry has talked a little bit about this. But can you go into what your response is to developing countries' calls for specific dollar pledges on loss and damage? It's on the agenda. Of course, this year, that's a decision that's been made, including by this administration and others.

But can you speak to some of the resistance, it seems, that Kerry has been suggesting -- and others -- about getting to those specific numbers with specificity on how the countries who are calling for loss and damage can receive compensation?

Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. On the human rights concerns, I don't have anything to add in order to get ahead of a meeting that hasn't happened yet, other than -- you know, again, this is this is something that has certainly been raised multiple times frequently, and the President has made clear he will not shy away from raising human rights concerns with foreign leaders.

On loss and damage, we are absolutely committed to engaging constructively on this issue and understand, you know, the depths of what climate-vulnerable countries are facing here and the reason they are so focused on the loss and damage aspect of the Paris Agreement negotiations. Absolutely, we have a strong interest in doing whatever we can to help address the problems in solidarity with vulnerable countries and with those communities.

You know, there have been a number of really useful discussions in the last year around finance for averting and minimizing and addressing loss and damage. And we are supportive of doing what we can to find the way to scale up related finance, including public finance, and recognizing that this is a multifaceted challenge -- loss and damage -- and it requires similarly multifaceted solutions.

So, I think some of the reaction is that we're not yet at a point where there's something that we're, you know, agreeing to or disagreeing to. There are a lot of different ideas being floated around, and at this point, all we can say is that we understand the depths of this challenge and we are committed to working constructively, including at the COP, to figure out a way for the international community to make sure that the needs are met and that we are addressing these problems in solidarity.

Q: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to take another crack at Aamer's question about a possible meeting with the Chinese president while we're there. I know you guys can't confirm anything or say that it's happening, but obviously, this has been in the ether and something that you guys have said that you're trying to set up.

So, I was wondering if you could just talk maybe generally about what your hope for a best-case scenario in terms of engagement with the Chinese during this trip is. Is there hope that you might get a rebuke of Putin and Russia out of the Chinese in the way that the Germans were able to recently? Any commitment on Taiwan? Anything on trade? Just trying to get an idea of what the agenda with China is. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible) -- I think it's just premature to speak to that when there's news to report on this. We'll be back in touch at that stage.

Q: Thank you so much. I'm sorry to pile on you with these questions about bilats with Chinese officials, but is there a potential for a bilat with the Chinese outgoing premier?

And just in general, when meeting with high-level Chinese officials, what are going to be the administration's priorities?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just, you know, repeat what we've said -- what I've said previously, which is: I don't have news to report on additional bilaterals beyond what we've already announced. If there is news on that score, we'll be back in touch and talk more extensively then.

MODERATOR: Yeah, thank you. I know everyone has that question, but if there is news to announce there, we will make sure to do -- have a conversation with you all on what that would look like.

Let's go to our next question, please.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. I have a question about the G20. A lot of diplomats and foreign leaders have sort of questioned the usefulness of the G20 over the last years, just given the inability to achieve consensus with countries like Russia and China. And I'm wondering what the President's view of the usefulness of the G20 is, heading into this summit.

And if I could ask a second question. Former President Trump is suggesting he may announce a second run for -- third run for president on November 15th, which is when President Biden will be at the G20. Given what the President has said in the past about foreign leaders questioning how long America will be back, does the President anticipate this dynamic to play any role in his discussions at the G20?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of your first question, you know, the President believes very centrally in the ongoing importance of the G20. And as I said in my own remarks, the United States was critical to lifting the G20 up to the leaders level 14 years ago in the midst of the global financial crisis and continues to see the G20 as the forum where 80 percent of global GDP is under one roof, where, you know, the world can come together to talk through the important challenges that we face.

And I think that, in particular, as I laid out in my own remarks, I think the President has crafted an agenda out for this G20 that is really focused on listening to and providing a plan for addressing some of the stresses that, in particular, the non-G7/G20s of the emerging world faces, (inaudible) whether that's immediate issues around energy and food security, which have been prominent in our discussions with countries around the world since Russia's invasion, the pressures that those issues are putting on households, on businesses, on economies. Secondly, focused on issues like closing the investment gap, particularly around challenges like the clean energy transition and digital infrastructure, global public health, and gender inclusion.

These are things that, you know, require action from the world but also require U.S. leadership, and that's what the President is going to be speaking to there, including at the side events that I mentioned. And then a set of steps that can be taken to enhance our -- the world's multilateral toolkit for grappling with and addressing shared challenges.

You know, Jake and many others have spoken to the centrality of shared transnational challenges as a core defining feature of this moment and of our national security strategy.

And the G20 is a place to really highlight and underscore the work that we're doing there -- whether that's around reform of the World Bank and other multilateral development institutions; whether that's working to launch and put into place a strong pandemic preparedness fund; whether that's, again, kind of taking steps with respect to things like closing the infrastructure and investment gap.

You know, these are all issues that are and have -- that really speak to the moment that we're in and also require a gathering like the G20 to speak to that in terms of the fullness of the countries in parts of the world with the impact.

So, all that goes back around to the fact that, you know, the G20 is a vital forum. It's a forum that -- that has no real substitute in terms of the breadth of countries that are able to come together and speak to these topics.

And lastly, it's also a forum where even as we address each of these core issues, you know, we're going to, you know, kind of not shy away for a second from calling out Russia's war of aggression, calling out the fact that that war has caused massive disruptions in the global economy, in particular for vulnerable countries.

And this, too, is an important part of what the President will be looking to do at the G20 as well.

Q: Thanks so much. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how the President plans to approach the relationship with Saudi Arabia at the G20, given the broader review of the relationship that's taking place and also the scrutiny he came under for the fist bump he gave MBS during his visit over the summer. And could you also say if the President will participate in a family photo if Vladimir Putin does attend the conference?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, you know, no specific news here beyond what you've already heard from the President on Saudi Arabia. I think that, you know, he has articulated his perspective with respect to the decisions they've made through OPEC+; has articulated that this is a relationship broadly that he is -- that he's, you know, reconsidering the different dimensions of.

And, you know, I'm not going to get ahead of anything that -- beyond that, other than to say that -- you know, that the President has stated that and that's ongoing. I think what he is going to be focused at the G20 is exactly the list of issues that I just walked through.

And those are the -- the issues that define our moment, define the concerns that we hear day in and day out from countries around the world, and the issues that are core to having an affirmative agenda that can allow countries to address those.

Q: Yeah, thank you so much for doing this. And sorry about not unmuting. I have a question. It's more about the G20 and about the mood with the Europeans. The EU is pretty upset about that Inflation Reduction Act and especially about electric car subsidies. They're looking for ways to answer. And the German finance minister recently said, and I quote, "I'm not sure whether the administration is aware of our concerns."

So my question is, basically: Is the administration aware of this concern? And is this something the President will discuss with European partners at the G20? And are you concerned that it might impact the broader transatlantic relationship and maybe evolve into a -- you know, an open trade war?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I guess a few thoughts here. You know -- one, you know, the President, the administration as a whole has been absolutely committed to transatlantic unity not just since the start of the administration, but, of course, especially since the start of Russia's brutal war against Ukraine.

That has reflected itself across any number of different priorities, whether it's been our shared approach on sanctions. But it's also reflected itself in some core economic priorities. Obviously, this has been an extremely challenging moment for Europe's energy security. We, in the United States, for our part, have turned over every stone to help Europe meet its energy challenges.

You know, if you kind of look at, for example, U.S. LNG exports now versus 15, 16 months ago, our overall LNG exports are up by over 20 percent. Our LNG exports to Europe are up by almost a factor of three, reflecting the massive reallocation that's been underway from Asia to Europe, in terms of the destination, for U.S. LNG exports.

That just, I think, highlights the extent to which transatlantic unity, the extent to which helping Europe meet the challenges that Russia's war has presented to their economy has been, kind of, very front of mind for President Biden and a core priority for this administration.

You know, with respect to the IRA, you know, yes, we are, here, aware of those concerns. In fact, you know, I would point you to -- [redacted] was in Berlin two weeks ago. There was -- [redacted] sat down with President von der Leyen's chief of staff, Bjoern Seibert, there. Coming out of that meeting, we announced a dialogue between the EU and the United States to speak to both opportunities that the IRA presents for EU economies, for EU firms, as well as challenges and concerns that some of those same countries and those same firms feel with respect to the IRA.

We had our first meeting of that -- of that grouping last week. We expect additional conversations to follow on as soon as this week, in terms of, you know, really continuing to further that dialogue -- further, both, again, this kind of understanding around the concerns and challenges that Europe faces and feels, but also the opportunities that are -- that are provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. And this is just a dialogue that we expect to continue to remain a constructive, focused partner on.

Because, again, end of the day, the most important thing is that we maintain focus on transatlantic unity on facing these common challenges together. And that's precisely why we're working to (inaudible) these out through channels like the dialogue I just mentioned.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, all. So, we're out of time. But as I said earlier, we will continue to find opportunities to talk more about the trip and make additional announcements, so we will be in touch with you on that.

As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to

"senior administration officials." And the contents -- the embargo on the contents of the call have now lifted. Have a good rest of your day.

3:45 P.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call Previewing President Biden's Trip to North Africa and Asia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358723

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