Vatican City, Holy See:
As world leaders flock to Rome for the G20 summit, US President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis on Friday at the start of a trip to reaffirm US international credentials.
Shortly before leaving Washington, the president unveiled a “historic” plan to rebuild the US economy, but it remains to be seen whether he can persuade lawmakers to back him.
After weeks of internal party bickering and with his personal notes dropping, Biden had hoped to arrive at twin summits in Europe this week – the G20 and UN climate talks in Glasgow – with the deal in hand. .
The 78-year-old sees himself as the spokesperson for democracy in the face of authoritarian regimes, especially in China, although Xi Jinping, like Russian Vladimir Putin, does not participate in the G20 in person.
The President opened the trip on a more intimate note. After landing overnight, he arrived at the Vatican just before lunch for a meeting with Pope Francis, the leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world.
The presidential convoy carrying Biden and his wife Jill passed through St. Peter’s Square before heading to the Apostolic Palace, where a line of Vatican guards and dignitaries awaited American guests.
– First meeting as chairman –
The bells of Saint-Pierre rang just after the arrival of the Bidens in the Cortile San Damaso.
The American President and his wife, dressed in a black robe and a veil, as is tradition when he meets the Pope, were received by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican.
Biden and Francis have met three times already, but it was their first one-on-one since Biden was elected.
Only the second Catholic president in history, Biden regularly attends mass and is open about his faith.
The White House has said it expects the meeting to be “warm,” and Biden and the Pope share a range of concerns, from poverty to climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.
But the question is whether either of the leaders raises the issue of the red abortion button. Biden supports the right to choose, while Francis, 84, called the termination of pregnancy “murder.”
The pontiff nonetheless distanced himself from pressure from conservative American bishops to deny communion to politicians supporting the right to abortion – which would include Biden.
The meeting will be held behind closed doors and the Vatican abruptly canceled a live camera feed, to protests from reporters.
– Charm offensive –
Biden then crosses the Tiber into the heart of the Eternal City to meet Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi – the man, nicknamed “Super Mario”, charged with reforming the country after the devastation of Covid-19.
The G20 host is closely watched in Washington for his plans to get a debt-laden and politically agitated Italy back on track.
But while Draghi is celebrated as the new star in European politics, especially with the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Biden appears to have lost some of his luster.
The president counts his national legacy on adopting the $ 1.75 trillion Build Back Better social protection program, and also hopes he will present the United States as a world leader on climate change at the crucial summit of the COP26 which will start on Monday.
He said he includes “the biggest investment ever to tackle the climate crisis” – $ 550 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“America is back in a leadership position on the climate in a way that will be widely welcomed,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters during the flyby.
Biden, a seasoned foreign policy expert, is determined to distance himself from ex-President Donald Trump’s unilateralism and will seek to appease ruffled feathers.
He will have some reparations to make after a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which angered US allies, and a major row over nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden will meet French President Macron on Friday for the first time since the submarine dispute, in what Sullivan said should be a “constructive and deeply substantive meeting.”
Biden and Macron are set to meet again on Saturday alongside Merkel and Briton Boris Johnson to discuss attempts to bring Iran back into negotiations over submitting its nuclear industry to international inspections.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)