U.S. President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday he would work to rebuild international institutions he said were damaged during Donald Trump’s presidency and that his message to world leaders is that “America is back.”
Biden met Tuesday with defense and intelligence experts, many of whom worked for President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. He had gathered them together because the Trump administration has blocked him from getting the intelligence briefings traditionally granted the president-elect.
“We’ve been through a lot of damage done over the last four years, in my view. We need to rebuild our institutions and my workforce to reflect the full strength and diversity of our country,” Biden said. “We need to focus on readiness for whatever may come.”
Biden said he had spoken to around 13 heads of state since he was declared the winner of the election. On Tuesday, he had calls with the prime ministers of India and Israel — both of whom forged close ties with President Donald Trump.
“The message is America is back. It’s no longer America alone,” the president-elect said, describing his conversations with world leaders.
Biden met with the foreign policy experts for a briefing via video conference, including retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, retired Navy Adm. William McRaven and David Cohen, the former deputy director of the CIA and undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence during the Obama administration.
Biden’s transition efforts have been hampered by Trump’s refusal to concede the election. Tuesday’s meeting was not an official U.S. government briefing because the General Services Administration has not yet made the “ascertainment” that Biden has won the presidential election.
“I’m not being critical — just stating the obvious — you know that I’ve been unable to get the briefings that ordinarily would have come by now. And so, I just want to get your input on what you see ahead,” Biden told the advisers.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris joined Biden for the session from Washington, where she planned to cast votes in the Senate.
Without access to the agencies, Biden is relying on experts from the Obama administration – as well as people who left government during the Trump years and are cooperative — to plan for the new administration.
Biden will inherit a number of foreign policy challenges upon taking office, including a contentious relationship with China, heightened tensions with Iran and a North Korea that remains undeterred from expanding its nuclear arsenal despite Trump’s efforts to build a personal relationship with Kim Jong Un.
Trump also been rushing to leave his final mark on foreign policy by cementing moves that Biden may oppose.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday it would draw down U.S. deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan to about 2,500 troops in each country by the end of the year. The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on Iran over terrorism and human-rights concerns and is preparing new penalties on Beijing for the Communist Party’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
Taken together, the aggressive moves could make it more difficult for Biden to maneuver as he looks to rejoin international accords brokered under President Barack Obama, such as the Iran nuclear agreement, and repair frayed relations with U.S. allies.
Biden said on Monday that further delays in the transition process could also risk increasing the coronavirus death toll.
Former Trump White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is among those who’ve warned that Biden’s lack of access could be a threat to national security.
“You lose a lot if the transition is delayed because the new people are not allowed to get their head in the game,” Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, told Politico last week. “The president, with all due respect, does not have to concede. But it’s about the nation. It hurts our national security.”
He added: “It’s not a process where you go from zero to 1,000 miles per hour.”
The 9/11 Commission Report found that the delayed transition in 2000 due to the Florida recount hurt the ability of George W. Bush’s administration’s to staff key national security posts ahead of the terrorist attacks.
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