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After sombre tone in first 100 days, Biden plans to try to sell spending to US public

Reuters

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When he delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday (28 April), US President Joe Biden (pictured) took on a new role: salesman in chief, writes Trevor Hunnicutt.

Through his first 100 days in office, Biden has often struck a somber tone as he spoke about the country's coronavirus deaths, mass shootings and millions out of work.

With his Cabinet mostly in place and a flurry of executive orders and a massive COVID-19 relief bill signed, much of Biden's upcoming agenda is at the mercy of Congress.

So the Democratic president plans to redouble efforts to convince voters - and by extension reluctant lawmakers - that collaborative effort and trillions in spending are the way to renovate the country and compete with China, administration officials and their allies, including in Congress, said in recent weeks.

Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda is broadly popular with voters, but his coronavirus relief bill failed to win a single Republican vote in Congress. On Wednesday, he plans to outline another crowd-friendly idea - putting $1.5 trillion toward childcare and college education, and taxing wealthy Americans to pay for it.

That is on top of a $2 trillion jobs-and-infrastructure plan paid for by raising taxes on U.S. companies, that Republicans in Congress argue is too large.

Biden is expected to try to convince Americans that infrastructure is more than just roads, that caregivers need to be paid more for their work and that taxing the wealthy more to invest in long-term projects is good for the economy. After Wednesday's speech, he will head to Georgia on Thursday and Pennsylvania on Friday, with more stops to come.

More than half of Americans, 55%, approve of the president, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows, levels of support that predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican, never achieved. Infrastructure spending is even more popular, as is making the rich pay higher taxes.

That is why Wednesday's target audience is not just the tiny group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill allowed in the room, but the tens of millions the White House hopes will tune in, Biden associates say.

At the same time, White House aides are pushing for Biden to champion an assortment of policies, ranging from police reform to foreign affairs, in the speech.

Biden's main speechwriter, Vinay Reddy, helped the president craft his 21-minute inaugural address, among the shortest in modern times, and a plea in March to end hatred following the killings of Asian Americans in Georgia.

The president's speechwriting process is generally a back-and-forth affair, aides say, lasting several weeks or months, with drafts written or marked up by hand and edited until the last minute.

Biden asks aides to boil concepts down into blunt, rib-sticking terms, and to make only promises they know they can deliver - like guaranteeing 100 million vaccine shots within 100 days during his campaign, a goal communicated broadly, achieved quickly, and then doubled.

"The whole concept of the bully pulpit was going to the people to put pressure on legislators," said Theodore Sheckels, a Randolph-Macon College English professor, who has written extensively about political communication.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “are trying to communicate more directly to the American people,” Sheckels said.

EU

Mohsen Rezaee emerges as the West's man on the ground

Guest contributor

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As nuclear talks in Vienna stall, negotiators are keeping a close eye on Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, the outcome of which could be key to breaking the current deadlock, writes Yanis Radulović.

With a fourth round of talks set to resume in Vienna this week, pressure is mounting on high-ranking European negotiators to reach an accord that bridges the geopolitical chasm between Washington and Tehran and brings Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A historic non-proliferation agreement and widely regarded as one of the Obama administration’s premier foreign policy achievements, the JCPOA set out a framework to curtail Iran’s nuclear breakout time and established formal steps for capping the enrichment of fissile material, scheduling transparent atomic facility inspections, and dismantling excess centrifuge installations. In return for sustained compliance with this framework, the U.S. and other major world powers agreed to a gradual lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

When the US withdrew from this landmark agreement in 2018, the European co-signatories of Germany, France, and the UK stepped up to keep the deal alive. However, European relations in the region quickly became strained by the revival of Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran, a campaign which aimed to strangle the Iranian economy via unilateral sanctions and escalatory retaliatory actions.

Unsurprisingly, Washington’s pivot to maximum pressure has placed major European powers in a foreign policy double bind. While the recent uptick in U.S.-Iran tensions has trended downwards since the election of President Joe Biden, his predecessor’s approach in the region has had a lasting effect upon Iranian goodwill towards multilateral agreements like the JCPOA.

For the European co-signatories, the nuclear talks in Vienna are embedded within a broader strategy of strategic détente and diplomatic reintegration between Europe and Iran. Beyond the obvious advantages of nuclear non-proliferation, Europe is also eyeing a future where Iran can step up as a fully-fledged, sanction-free actor on the international stage. Despite having an estimated 9 percent share of the world’s oil reserves, the sanction-sapped Iranian economy is woefully underdeveloped. Throw in the simulative potential of Iran’s frozen assets — estimated to be worth between $100 and $120 billion — and it’s easy to see why Europe views Iran as such a promising partner for foreign direct investment.

On a condition of anonymity, a senior official from the US State Department spoke with Reuters and shed some light on the likelihood of a deal being inked during the fourth round of talks, saying: "Is it possible that we'll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It's possible yes.”

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator, is slightly more pessimistic at the chances of a deal in the immediate future. Speaking on state TV, Araqchi emphasized that Iran would not rush into a new deal without a stable framework of safeguards.

"When it will happen is unpredictable and a timeframe cannot be set. Iran is trying (for) it to happen as soon as possible, but we will not do anything in a rush," Araqchi said.

As formal talks stall, European negotiators are looking at Mohsen Rezaee, one of three front-runners in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, to cut through the diplomatic red tape and promote mutually beneficial collaboration with the US and EU.

Unlike his fellow presidential candidates, Rezaee is not a lifelong politician. Nevertheless, with a career spanning the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the Expediency Discernment Council, Rezaee is a seasoned diplomat and pragmatic negotiator. Perhaps Rezaee’s most impressive achievement is the fact that in all his years of civil, military, and political service, he has never once been subject to a corruption scandal or criminal probe.

While established politicians like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may be a more conventionally attractive partner with the West, there is growing conviction in Europe that Rezaee, a well-rounded, well-respected, and reliable candidate, is the man best suited to represent Iran and its position on international nuclear negotiations.

A proven leader who is unafraid to express his opinions, Rezaee has repeatedly shown that he is capable of adjusting his opinions and uniting coalitions. Despite his role as a representative of the “Revolution Generation”, Rezaee has made it clear that he is no radical. After years of civil service, Rezaee has broken ranks with many of the hardline views that are commonplace in the IRGC. In fact, in an interview with the Tehran Times, he went as far as to dismiss a nuclear arms race as unwise, remarking: “Political wisdom requires not to chase weapons that can destroy the entire humanity.”

With impediments to progress rearing at every turn in Vienna, it has become abundantly clear that the West needs a man on the ground in Iran. Mohsen Rezaee, and the emerging movement he represents, may be the key to breaking the deadlock in negotiations and bringing Iran back as a major player in the global economy.

The opinions expressed in the above article are thoseof the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.

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Russia

What to expect from a possible meeting of the US and Russian presidents?

Alex Ivanov. Moscow Correspondent

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President Biden's recent offer to meet with President Putin in mid-June for talks is still among the top news stories in the international news feed. Analysts and journalists are wondering where in Europe this meeting will take place. However, the location of the summit is obviously not the main thing in the upcoming event. The agenda of these negotiations should be fundamental, especially in view of Washington's harsh rhetoric against Moscow and the ongoing series of new sanctions, writes Alex Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

On the one hand, as Secretary Blinken said in a recent interview with BBC News: "Washington wants a stable relationship with Moscow."

But at the same time, the American side promises to respond to Russia's "irresponsible and destabilising behaviour".

Blinken also said that at a recent G7 meeting in the UK, the US focused on Russia's interference in its elections and hacking attacks through software firm SolarWinds, which are attributed to the Russian side. In addition, the situation around the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently in prison and declared a "prisoner of conscience"in the West, was discussed.

Earlier, the G7 foreign ministers called for stable and predictable relations with Moscow. Before that, US President Joe Biden was warned against fighting with Russia.

Blinken stated Biden's desire to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin the stabilization of relations between Moscow and Washington. He added that the United States does not seek to aggravate relations with Russia, but will respond to those steps that it considers unfriendly. According to the head of the State Department, “a direct conversation between the leaders will benefit both countries”.

The Russian-American summit is expected to take place in mid-June in Europe — although there is no official confirmation yet, and the Kremlin is in no hurry to respond to Washington's proposal. The location hasn't been selected yet. The capitals of Finland, Austria, and even the Czech Republic are named (despite the growing scandal over Russia's accusations of involvement in the explosion at an ammunition depot in the Czech town of Vrbetice). The Kremlin, for its part, considers all these conversations "premature". So far, only preliminary dates are mentioned -June 15-16.

It is known that by this time, Biden will be in Europe for several days as part of a grand tour. He is going to attend the G7 summit in British Cornwall (June 11-13) and the NATO summit in Brussels (June 14). And in the status of the "leader of the Western world", Biden intend to go to a meeting with Putin.

What will Biden discuss in Europe on the eve of the meeting with Putin? The same thing that was just discussed in London at the G7 Foreign Ministers' meeting: countering Russia and China. This will also be discussed at the NATO summit — " Russia's aggressive actions and international changes in the security sphere associated with the strengthening of China."

Whatever analysts and journalists may think, the meeting of the leaders of Russia and the United States, if it takes place, is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough in relations. The gap between Moscow and Washington is too wide. As it is known, the Russian ambassador to America Anatoly Antonov was recalled to Russia more than a month ago (since March 17) "for consultations".

Moscow makes it clear that Antonov is not expected to return to Washington in the near future. Russia expects the United States to "take at least some steps to normalize relations." It is believed that the ambassador was invited to Russia for consultations after Biden reacted positively to a question that Putin was a "killer".

The Foreign Ministry said that Antonov was invited to search for "ways to improve" relations between Russia and the United States. The official representative of the Ministry Maria Zakharova said at the time that Moscow wanted to prevent the “irreversible degradation " of bilateral relations.

After arriving in Moscow, Ambassador Antonov said that the diplomats have a lot of work to do to analyze the current state of Russian-American relations. Russia is determined not to let them "fall into the abyss," Antonov added.

Whatever politicians and journalists might expect from Biden's proposed meeting, Washington's list of grievances is too long to even briefly touch on all the topics during the talks. At the same time, one must not forget that the Kremlin categorically disagrees with the various accusations and statements of the White House. Moreover, Moscow believes that America is deliberately "teasing" Russia in order to prevent the strengthening of its foreign policy and economic positions in Europe and the world. The best example for this is Washington's aggressive attacks on the Nord Stream 2 energy project, attempts to denigrate Moscow's actions in Syria by all means. An additional factor is the already traditional accusations against Russia of interfering in the internal political processes in the United States, first of all presidential elections.

If we add to this the diametrically opposite approaches of Russia and America to the situation in Ukraine and the notorious issue of Crimea, then the chances of achieving any compromise or even rapprochement of the positions of both sides remain slim.

Biden is likely to repeat his famous "mantra" that Russia will "pay a high price" for attacking US interests. The Russian side will once again make statements about the groundlessness of the American accusations against Moscow.

In any case, if the meeting takes place, it will become a certain landmark moment, which should confirm or refute Washington's real readiness to build a "normal dialogue" with Moscow. Although, as many in Russia believe, such a readiness of the American side would be a big surprise if, moreover, the words of the Americans are confirmed by the case.

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Defence

Biden to join eastern European NATO states summit, focus seen on Ukraine

Reuters

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US President Joe Biden (pictured) joined a virtual summit of eastern European NATO states held in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday (10 May), Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said, with a focus on security in the Black Sea region and Ukraine.

The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, will be jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland's President Andrzej Duda and aims at coordinating the security positions of countries in the region.

"Glad to welcome Joe Biden to the Bucharest9 Summit which I host in Bucharest today," Iohannis said on his Twitter account.

"Together with President Andrzej Duda we'll also welcome ... Jens Stoltenberg in preparation of NATO Summit, focusing on Transatlantic ties, NATO 2030, defence and deterrence on the eastern flank."

Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia will video-conference into the gathering.

"In ... the statement that the nine will publish after the meeting there will be the issue of security in the Black Sea region and the related security issues in Ukraine," the head of Poland's National Security Bureau, Pawel Soloch, told reporters.

Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists.

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