Biden kicks off his G20 by cozying up to his pals Trudeau and Sunak – with Saudi Crown Prince MBS waiting nearby and Xi, Putin at home
- President Joe Biden is attending the G20 Leaders’ Summit this weekend in New Delhi, India
- Biden cheerfully greeted top allies including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
- The White House has yet to say whether he’ll meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Biden arrived at the Bharat Mandapam convention center Saturday morning and was greeted by the host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shaking and then holding onto Modi’s hand as he entered the complex.
The leaders of Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Nigeria also greeted Biden. Indonesia‘s President Joko Widodo shared a long embrace with Biden before taking his seat. One photo captured Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov just feet away from the U.S. president, amid tensions over the Ukraine war.
The president was seated four seats away from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the White House has played coy on whether the two would meet on the summit’s sidelines.
White House officials spent the morning and Friday night knocking China for playing hooky.
Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said Saturday morning that ‘really it’s incumbent upon the Chinese government to explain why a leader would or would not participate.’
It was unclear if Modi expressed displeasure about Xi and Putin’s absences when he met with Biden Friday night – the first meeting of the U.S. president’s trip, but National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell told reporters afterward that he sensed the Indians were upset.
‘I think it is a disappointment for India that both Russia and China are not here,’ he told reporters in a late Friday night briefing.
‘And the fact that the United States, probably the country that India has invested the most in deepending and developing a relationship with, showed up and is engaged in every major initiative that will be rolled out over the next couple of days was both reassuring and gratifying for the Indian interlocutors and that was not lost on us,’ he also said.
LEADERS ATTENDING THE G20
ARGENTINA: President Alberto Fernandez
AUSTRALIA: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
BRAZIL: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
CANADA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
FRANCE: President Emmanuel Macron
GERMANY: Chancellor Olaf Scholz
INDIA: Prime Minister Narendra Modi (host)
INDONESIA: President Joko Widodo
ITALY: Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni
JAPAN: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
REPUBLIC OF KOREA: President Yoon Suk Yeol
SAUDI ARABIA: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
SOUTH AFRICA: President Cyril Ramaphosa
TURKEY: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
THE UNITED KINGDOM: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
THE UNITED STATES: President Joe Biden
THE EUROPEAN UNION: President Ursula von der Leyen
Last week, China and India got into a diplomatic tiff over an ‘official map’ released by China that claimed lands along the Himalayas that Indian officials say belong to them.
Xi sent Premier Li Qiang in his place.
Biden bent down to talk to Maya and then was treated to a brief dance number by an Indian dance troupe positioned on a makeshift stage in front of the airport terminal.
They danced to a version of Ed Sheeran‘s Shape of You.
Biden then motorcaded to Modi’s residence, where U.S. journalists were left waiting in vans – without bathroom access – outside.
Press access has been one of the gnawing issues at the summit, taking place in the capital of the so-called ‘world’s largest democracy.’
On the flight over, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pointed to the unique venue where Biden and Modi’s first meeting of the summit was taking place.
‘This meeting will be taking place at the prime minister’s residence,’ Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One. ‘So it’s unusual in that respect.’
Still, he said that the White House pressed the Indian government for press access – and was denied.
Afterward, Campbell called India a ‘work in progress,’ on various democratic freedoms, including freedom of the press.
‘And I think the key here is for us to maintain a respectful dialogue, and to approach some of the challenges with the degree of humility given some of the challenges that we face in our own country as well,’ Campbell said.
On Saturday, just two U.S. journalists – a writer and a photographer – were allowed access to the opening G20 session.
As Modi spoke in Hindi, the U.S. reporter wasn’t given the device that allows for simultaneous translation.
Finer said Saturday that Biden brought up unspecified democracy issues during his conversation with Modi.
Finer had been asked if Biden had taken Modi to task for bulldozing slums ahead of the summit, leaving droves of poor people homeless in an effort to beautify the city for visiting world leaders.
LEADERS SNUBBING THE G20
CHINA: President Xi Jinping
MEXICO: Andrés Manuel López Obrador
RUSSIA: President Vladimir Putin
City officials also disbursed street dogs and monkeys ahead of the summit.
The city’s residents were told to take a holiday, leaving streets vacant and shops closed, clearing the way for motorcades to zoom down traffic-less roadways.
On the agenda Saturday, the White House is set to tout a new shipping and rail corridor project it calls ‘groundbreaking’ with prospects of bringing more stability to the turbulent Middle East region by more closely linking regional economies together.
The project is a new rail transportation corridor that would include the U.S. India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union – although it isn’t exactly ‘shovel ready,’ with leaders set to announce only a ‘memorandum of understanding’ on it.
Finer told reporters traveling in New Delhi Saturday it could help ‘turn the temperature down’ on ‘turbulence and insecurity’ coming out of the Middle East.
‘It will be a clear demonstration of a new model President Biden has pioneered for more transparent and sustainably sustainable development, sustainable, high standard infrastructure that fills a damaged gap and enables greater prosperity and better connectivity for key regions around the world,’ he said.
Saudi Arabia’s inclusion could set up the right conditions for Biden and MBS to speak.
On the table, potentially, is a ‘mega-deal’ between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that could lead to Saudi and Israel normalizing relations.
It would be a historic breakthrough for Mideast peace.
Officials told Axios last month that the administration is trying to finish its diplomatic push before the 2024 presidential election ramps up.
While those sources pointed to how much of Biden’s time his reelection campaign will eat up, Saudi relations are not popular among swaths of the U.S.
Besides the country’s poor treatment of women, there was the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
And timing of an MBS meeting could also be awkward for Biden – who has decided to skip the traditional 9/11 ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the terror attacks Monday in Alaska on his way home from India and Vietnam.
For years, 9/11 families have gone after the Saudi government, as 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers were Saudis.