World

What Putin wants when he meets Biden this week

SERGEI ILYIN/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

(MOSCOW) -- When Russian President Vladimir Putin meets President Joe Biden on Wednesday in Switzerland, experts in Moscow say for all their differences, the two leaders want something similar from their first summit: to cool things down.

The U.S. and Russia's relations are the worst they have been since the Cold War and since 2016 in particular seem locked in almost permanent crises.

Biden has said he wants a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia, one that would allow it to focus on other foreign policy priorities that are more important to it, like taking a harder line with China. The Kremlin for its part has faced a continuous and intensifying barrage of sanctions-- the latest in April-- and with its crackdown on opposition at home and aggressive actions abroad is increasingly becoming a pariah with western countries.

Since coming to office, Russia has appeared to want to get Biden's attention. The president offered Putin the summit after Russia massed thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border in April.

But now, having got Biden to the table, analysts said Putin has a clear proposal to deliver in Geneva: stay out of Russian domestic politics and Russia might act less troublesome abroad.

“The Kremlin wants to transition to a respectful adversarial relationship from a disrespectful one we have today,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former diplomat at Russia’s embassy in Washington and now a commentator on foreign affairs.

“That is, it wants to be treated the same way the Soviet Politburo was treated by the US in 1970-80s,” Frolov told ABC News. “Meaning no name-calling” (such as Biden calling Putin a “killer”), “no personal sanctions on the leadership, no democracy lectures, regular personal summit meetings; respectful tone of discussions, no tangible support for Russian opposition.”

It will not be an invitation for détente but instead to return to the later years of the Cold War when Putin was a KGB agent and the Soviet Union and the U.S. saw each other as enemies but tried to maintain a predictable relationship. And, crucially, where Russia was treated as an equal.

“For this, the Kremlin is prepared to promise to behave more responsibly,” Frolov said.

“This seems to be in line with what the White House sees as a desirable deliverable," he continued. "So unless one of the leaders stormed out of the meeting shouting expletives, the summit would be a major success.”

A successful summit might be followed by a period of greater calm, analysts said, with Russia reining in aggressive operations abroad, such as its assassinations with chemical weapons, and less overt attempts at election meddling. Like in the Cold War, it would also mean focusing the relationship on discussions of strategic stability and arms control -- also a priority for the Biden administration.

Russia's seizure of two American former Marines, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, as hostages -- and its signalling that it might trade them in a prisoner swap if the summit goes well -- could be seen as more leverage to persuade the U.S. of the benefits of having Russia play nicer, and the costs of having it not.

But the problem is events and the Kremlin's own core interests may get in the way.

The Kremlin is currently waging a crackdown on political opposition unprecedented under Putin’s rule. It has jailed its most prominent critic Alexey Navalny -- after he survived a nerve agent poisoning -- and last week outlawed his movement. Most leading figures of the anti-Kremlin opposition are now under arrest or living in exile in a sign, rights groups and analysts have said, Putin no longer appears willing to tolerate any political opposition at all.

“The question is how, to what extent Biden will accept this new situation,” Fyodor Lukyanov, a member of the Russian International Affairs Council, that sometimes advises Russia's government, told ABC News.

Biden has already condemned the crackdown and sanctioned Russia over Navalny’s jailing and poisoning and Lyukanov said it was clear Biden would continue to speak out on human rights.

“But at the same time, will it be a priority for Biden or not? That remains to be seen," Lukyanov said.

But if Biden does so, it will make any improvement in relations impossible, he said.

At the summit, that puts Biden in a complicated position: how to deliver a firm warning to Putin without antagonising him.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the tycoon who spent a decade in prison after challenging Putin politically and whose own pro-democracy organization Open Russia was forced to close this month under pressure from authorities, said Biden must set boundaries with Putin "clearly and publicly."

"Biden must categorically impress upon him that this time severe consequences will follow," Khodorkovsky wrote on Twitter. "Failing to do so would maintain the status quo of handshake politics, serving just to soothe Putin's ego. While this may briefly relieve tensions, in the long term it seeds further conflicts."

But confronting Putin aggressively, publicly in Geneva will also achieve little for Biden, said Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute.

Doing so would likely provoke another dangerous bout of troublemaking from Russia with few gains for the U.S, Galeotti wrote in an article for The Moscow Times Monday.

“Taking a firm line publicly can all too easily look like a challenge, a demand that Russia bend the knee,” Galeotti wrote. “Putin will not, cannot allow that to pass unchallenged. If threats are to be made, let them be out of public gaze and earshot.”

There are signs Biden is already trying to thread that needle. On Monday, he told reporters Putin was a "worthy adversary."

"He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden said in Brussels. “And I have found that he is a, as they used to say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary."

A successful summit for both sides then, analysts said, might not look dramatic.

“I can describe how I see the success of this summit," Lukyanov said.

It would end with Putin and Biden making statements saying basically the same thing, he said.

“’We discussed a range of issues. We agreed about our common responsibility in the field of strategic stability'” and then pledging a working group to discuss how to improve it, taking into account cyberattacks and new types of nuclear weapons, Lukyanov said.

“And that will be a great success,” he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Parents of former US Marine call for the release of their son from Russia, Putin indicates 'prisoner swap'

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated on Friday that he’d be willing to talk about a potential "prisoner swap" between two former U.S. Marines, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, for Russians being held in the U.S.

Reed, a 29-year-old from Texas, fell into the hands of Russian police after a party in Moscow in the summer of 2019 while visiting his girlfriend. He was initially taken to a police station to sober up but after agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence service arrived to question him, he was abruptly charged with assaulting two police officers, his family said. He was sentenced to nine years in prison last July in a trial that was denounced as absurd by the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

"In any real court system in the world, there’s no way he would have been convicted,” said his father, Joey Reed.

During the court hearings, the two police officers struggled to recall the alleged incident and contradicted themselves so much that at one stage in a session, attended by ABC News, even the judge began to laugh at them.

The U.S. has called for Reed to be released, saying his conviction was patently ridiculous.

"This conviction, and a sentence of nine years, for an alleged crime that so obviously did not occur, is ridiculous. I cannot even say 'miscarriage of justice,' because clearly 'justice' was not even considered. This was theater of the absurd," Ambassador John J. Sullivan said in a July 2020 statement.

After his son’s arrest, Joey Reed took matters into his own hands and spent over a year in Russia trying to free him, staying alone in Moscow through most of the coronavirus pandemic. Paula Reed told ABC News' World News Tonight on Monday that her husband’s work has been tireless.

“There's so many nights that you don't sleep and you're just thinking constantly,” she said. “Joey has just been, almost 24-hours a day, working on Trevor's case ... because of the time difference, he has to communicate with the attorneys at weird night hours.”

“It's just been really, really hard taxing for our family, for Joey, myself, his sister ... But obviously, it's roughest on Trevor,” she added.

The U.S. embassy accused Russia last week of blocking access to Reed and failing in its obligations to inform it of Reed’s health after he fell sick with COVID-19 nearly three weeks ago. The embassy and Reed’s family said they don’t know his condition and that they are concerned for him.

U.S. officials believe Reed was seized by Russia, similar to Whelan, to use as a possible bargaining chip. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 at his hotel in Moscow while visiting for a friend’s wedding. He was charged with espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a prison camp in a case that his family and U.S. officials was also fabricated.

Russia has repeatedly floated the idea of trading the two Americans for Russians jailed in the U.S. on criminal convictions.

Putin spoke about Reed, calling him a “drunken troublemaker” during an interview with NBC on Friday.

But he suggested that he was ready to discuss a possible prisoner swap for the men, replying “yes, yes” when asked if he would consider talking about it with Biden.

Russian officials have indicated they would like to trade Reed and Whelan for two Russians held in the U.S.: Viktor Bout -- one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers and dubbed "the Merchant of Death" -- and also Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for a drug smuggling conviction.

Whelan’s family released an audio message from him on Monday recorded from the prison camp in central Russia where he is held. In it, he appealed to Biden to help free him.

“Please bring me home to my family and my dog Flora where I belong. Thank you, Mr. President, for your commitment to returning me home and bringing this deplorable hostage situation to an expedient conclusion,” Whelan said in the recording that his family said was made on May 30.

He said he was innocent and noted that he had now been in detention longer than the Americans taken during the Iran hostage crisis during the Iranian revolution.

The Biden Administration said that freeing Whelan and Reed is a priority. President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with Putin on Wednesday following a NATO summit.

“What I’ll convey to President Putin is that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities,” said Biden on Monday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Was attempting Mount Everest worth the risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

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(NEW YORK) -- Rumblings earlier this spring that COVID-19 had made it to base camp at Mount Everest prompted fears of the worst: an outbreak of the deadly respiratory virus among people already impacted by the high altitude.

But as the dust settles from the climbing season on the world's tallest mountain, it appears disaster was avoided.

Four people died this spring on Everest -- markedly lower than the deadly, pre-COVID 2019 season -- and many expeditions reported successful summits.

Still, interviews with several mountaineers suggest a chaotic, stressful and costly time above 18,000 feet and unanswered questions about the extent of the COVID outbreak there as the virus raged in Nepal.

With Everest a major local economic driver, many expeditions decided to forge ahead, but others asked if it was worth the risk.

The situation on Everest

The Everest climbing season stretches from April, when preparations begin on the mountain, to early June, when final summit attempts are made. In a typical season, there's an approximate 66% success rate in reaching the summit from the south, Nepal-controlled side.

This year, with permits at a record-high, that dropped to under 50%, according to Everest documenter Alan Arnette's count.

"The only explanation is that already many people left before the summit push started because they were sick, they were evacuated with COVID," Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures posited based on what he witnessed, "and others canceled their climb in Camp 3 or Camp 4 because they got sick."

The four deaths included two Sherpa and two foreign climbers. Pemba Tashi Sherpa died due to a fall, outlets reported. The other deaths were attributed by operators to exhaustion and altitude.

Walking around base camp, Furtenbach said, you could hear people coughing in tents. Helicopters came in regularly to make evacuations, including riskier evacuations from Camps 2 and 3, which are at higher altitudes. Furtenbach, who's been on Everest eight times, said this was notably different from other seasons.

Despite requirements from the Nepalese government for testing and quarantines and assurances the region would be COVID-free, the coronavirus reached Everest.

Furtenbach was responsible for 20 clients, 28 Sherpa, 12 kitchen staff and four guides. They were acclimatized and ready to make a summit push when he decided to turn the group around after one client and three Sherpa tested positive.

The safety -- not to mention legal -- risk was simply too much, in his perspective. Some clients disagreed.

"We said, 'OK, that's good for you, but you need a Sherpa to climb, and you can't take the risk for your Sherpa, and I am not going to send a Sherpa up with you and risk their life just because you want to risk your life,'" he told ABC News, adding that some clients chose to continue on with other operators.

Risk to the Sherpa

Furtenbach said he had another reason to be especially concerned about the risk to the local Sherpa people who play an instrumental role on Everest: "They are the ones who get sick, because they are not vaccinated," he said, while most foreign clients were.

Kunga Sherpa was working with Furtenbach when he tested positive. He was evacuated from base camp to Kathmandu, where he stayed at a hospital for one night before being sent home to isolate, which was, he said, the norm for those who tested positive without serious symptoms.

"I was really scared because I heard most of the people died from the COVID cases in India or somewhere else," he told ABC News, "and I was really scared and really sad."

He recovered, but, he said, "some people are still in the hospital in Kathmandu." An unanswered question now is if the COVID cases from Everest will have reverberations as local guides and Sherpa return home.

As India, Nepal's neighbor, faced a COVID crisis, so, too, did Nepal, with cases exploding in early May. This created another moral conundrum: was it ethical to try Everest, which could end up with people taking up hospital beds, when the rest of the country was already in crisis?

Mountaineer Adrian Ballinger, ​whose Alpenglow Expeditions canceled their Everest trip this year as they couldn't climb from his preferred north, China-controlled side and because of lingering questions like that, wasn't so sure.

"What is the justification for utilizing medical facilities in Nepal during this outbreak? It just doesn't match for me," he told ABC News.

Nepal's management of Everest

Furtenbach said he was waiting for other expedition leaders to make the decision to cancel before he did. He didn't want to be the first to cancel but found himself in that position.

Afterwards, a few others followed suit, but not as many as he had expected. Meanwhile, talk was spreading that the Nepalese government was trying to keep word of COVID on Everest quiet.

In mid-May, Director General of the Department of Tourism Rudra Singh Tamang told Outside magazine "we don't believe" media reports of COVID at base camp. Tamang told Time, "Everything is fine."

Everest plays a significant role in Nepal's economy -- as well as for individual Sherpa. The country had closed the mountain last year, as the pandemic was in its early stages, so had already missed out on a year of the sums that come in from it.

"I think the intention was good to protect the Nepali tourist industry. That's what a government has to do," Furtenbach said. "And you can of course say we are the bad ones, because we came in the first place, we decided to run an expedition during a pandemic. So we are the ones to blame."

As has become a theme during the pandemic, the onus came down on individuals to assess the risk and act accordingly. But, Ballinger argued, that's always an expedition leader's responsibility.

"I don't think companies held up their side of the bargain of what mountain guiding is, which is managing and mitigating risk," he said.

Nevertheless, success stories

Nirmal "Nims" Purja, a Nepalese mountaineer, has had a remarkable 2021. To kick off the year, he was with a group that made the first successful summit of K2 in the winter. Purja did it without supplemental oxygen.

At the tail-end of the Everest season in early June, Purja led clients with his Elite Exped operation to the summit. Of those who left for the summit push, he told ABC News, 100% successfully summited.

He credits the success in part to "amazing protocols" the Nepalese government had to try to keep COVID off Mount Everest, and, he said, his team managed to "deal with it appropriately" on the mountain.

"It's an amazing result despite the COVID and with the current circumstance around the world," he said.

A few days after arriving back at Kathmandu, Purja wrote on Instagram he canceled planned expeditions to K2 and Broad Peak due to uncertainty from "the ongoing Covid situation" and visa and travel restrictions (in mid-May, the U.S. put Nepal on its "do not travel" list).

Two days later, he posted for his 403,000 Instagram followers a call to the U.K. government "to help our communities by sending vaccines urgently to help their Nepalese friends," referencing his own service for the British Special Forces.

"I was just wondering if, through my platforms, social media at least, if I can plead the U.K. government to support Nepal, who has obviously been loyal for more than 210 years, and now the people here need support," he told ABC News.

Purja spoke with ABC News shortly after making that public appeal and had not heard major responses yet, although U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the U.K. would be donating 100 million vaccine doses to poorer countries in the next year.

"It's a bit of work, but I'm still positive," Purja said. "And I hope good things will happen to good people."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How is NATO updating its common defense pact to deal with global cyberattacks?

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(BRUSSELS) -- President Joe Biden and leaders from the 30 countries that now make up NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, agreed at their summit in Brussels "that the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack," an assessment that could lead the organization to invoke its mutual self-defense clause -- or Article 5.

Amid the growing cyber threat, Biden on Monday called NATO's Article 5 "a sacred obligation" that is "rock solid and unshakable.”

The NATO alliance and its pledge to the common defense of member nations was originally intended to deter armed aggression from the Soviet Union following World War II.

The idea then was the allies could join forces to defend against an air or ground invasion.

Over the past few years, though, NATO has broadened the threat to include cyberattacks -- and recent ones on the U.S. -- emanating Biden has said, from Russia -- have created a new urgency on how to address the problem.

"Cyber threats to the security of the Alliance are becoming more frequent, complex, destructive and coercive," NATO said in April. "NATO will continue to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape. NATO and its Allies rely on strong and resilient cyber defences to fulfill the Alliance’s core tasks of collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The Alliance needs to be prepared to defend its networks and operations against the growing sophistication of the cyber threats and attacks it faces."

In fact, NATO now regularly conducts cyberdefense exercises as well as the more traditional ones involving tanks and troops.

But while a military incursion -- and how the allies should respond -- might be relatively clear, what constitutes a cyberattack serious enough to necessitate a joint response could be less so, especially if, as is often the case, it is difficult to trace its origin, which could range from a "state actor" to a criminal gang.
Here's what you need to know about the key section of the treaty.

What is Article 5?

The key section of the NATO treaty -- of which 30 countries have now signed onto since the organization was formed by 12 founding countries in 1949 -- is Article 5.

Article 5 commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state to be an armed attack against them all.

When it comes to security, Article 5 is where the weight of the alliance lies.

Has it been invoked before?

Yes -- but only once.

NATO invoked Article 5 in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, committing its support to the U.S.

"I constantly remind Americans that when America was attacked for the first time on its shores since what happened back at the end of World War II, NATO stepped up," Biden said in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, referencing the terror attacks. "NATO stepped up, and they honored Article 5.”

On Sept. 12, 2001, NATO unanimously passed a four-paragraph resolution to reflect its understanding that the threats to global security had changed radically since the alliance was founded.

What's changing?

"Reaffirming NATO’s defensive mandate, the Alliance is determined to employ the full range of capabilities at all times to actively deter, defend against, and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including those conducted as part of hybrid campaigns, in accordance with international law," a NATO summit communique said. "We reaffirm that a decision as to when a cyber attack would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis. Allies recognise that the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack."

"We will make greater use of NATO as a platform for political consultation among Allies, sharing concerns about malicious cyber activities, and exchanging national approaches and responses, as well as considering possible collective responses. If necessary, we will impose costs on those who harm us," the joint communique said.

That aligns with how White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday detailed Article 5 would be updated to deal with the growing global threat of cyberattacks.

"This would be on a case-by-case basis," he said. "And the notion is that if someone gets hit by a massive cyberattack, and they need technical or intelligence support from another ally to be able to deal with it, they could invoke Article 5 to be able to get that."

While it's unclear how exactly how severe a cyberattack would need to be to trigger Article 5, NATO leaders have said, "Cyber threats to the security of the Alliance are complex, destructive, coercive, and becoming ever more frequent. This has been recently illustrated by ransomware incidents and other malicious cyber activity targeting our critical infrastructure and democratic institutions, which might have systemic effects and cause significant harm."

The communique comes as the U.S. has been hit with several cyberattacks in recent weeks, including the Colonial Pipeline attack that disrupted the U.S. gasoline supply, some believed to have been caused by bad actors in Russia. With the wind of NATO behind him, Biden is expected to break up the cyberattacks in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

What has Biden said versus Trump?

Biden, sitting outside NATO headquarters with the secretary-general Monday, called Article 5 a "sacred obligation" and one that is "rock solid and unshakable" to the U.S.

"NATO is critically important for U.S. Interest in and of itself," he said. "If there weren't one, we'd have to invent one. It is--It allows America to conduct its business around the world in a way that never would have occurred were it not for NATO."

Biden's endorsement of NATO stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who called the alliance "obsolete," which he later backtracked, and once declined to endorse Article 5, which has been a key tenet of the alliance since it was created in 1949.

ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden calls NATO's common defense pact 'a sacred obligation' amid cyberattack

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(BRUSSELS) -- Wrapping up his first NATO summit since taking office, President Joe Biden said it was an "incredibly productive day" with American allies, which included individual meetings with roughly a dozen other leaders on the margins of the gathering. But the focus continues to be on his next major summit, when he comes face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Biden said there was a consensus among his fellow heads of state at NATO, saying they were "glad" he was meeting with Putin early in his presidency.

"Every world leader here that's a member of NATO that spoke today -- and most of them mentioned it -- thanked me for meeting with Putin now," Biden said in a press conference on Monday from the NATO headquarters in Brussels. "Every single one that spoke, and I think there were probably about 10 or 12 that spoke to it, saying they were happy that I did that, that I was going to do that.”

The president has previously described Putin as a "killer," who has no soul and is a "KGB thug." Asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega Monday about what he has learned from his previous meeting with him in 2016 and what his mindset is like walking into a summit with Putin, Biden said he is "bright" and "tough."

"I have found that he is a, as they say, when you used to play ball, a worthy adversary," Biden said.

Biden was also asked how he could trust Putin coming out of their summit and the president said it wasn't so much about trusting him, but rather "agreeing."

"I'm hoping that -- that President Putin concludes that there is some interest, in terms of his own interest, in changing the perception that the world has of him," he said.

Earlier in the day, Biden referenced his upcoming sit down with Putin during his meeting with Baltic leaders at NATO, discussing "the threat that Russia poses," according to a senior administration official and also brought up the recent "air piracy" that occurred when a Ryanair flight bound for Lithuania was forced to divert and land in Belarus.

"The four leaders committed to further strengthening our political, military, and economic partnerships, including working together through NATO to address challenges posed by Russia and China," the White House said in a written statement following their meeting.

Similar to this press conference, Biden will also go before the press corps alone following his summit with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. He defended that choice by saying he doesn't want the attention to be on physical details, but rather the substance of their discussions from their own points of view.

"I don't want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands? How far did they -- who talked the most and the rest," Biden said in England on Sunday. "He can say what he said the meeting was about and I will say what I think the meeting was about. That's how I'm going to handle it.”

Biden's press conference Monday came after a one-on-one meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday afternoon, amid strained relations between the two countries.

"We had a positive and productive meeting," Biden said, adding that they reviewed a range of issues.

"Our two countries have big agendas. Our teams are going to continue our discussions, and I'm confident we'll make real progress with Turkey and the United States," he added.

In April, Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to formally recognize the Ottoman Empire's killing and deportation of Armenians over a century ago as genocide, breaking from his predecessors and risking inflaming tensions with Turkey, a key NATO ally, who warned against it.

The U.S. also angered Turkey over the decision to cancel its participation in the F-35 fighter jets program last year after they accepted a Russian-made air defense system.

The president also continued to voice strong support for NATO's Article 5 -- which states an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. He said it is "rock solid and unshakeable" after earlier saying that it was "a sacred obligation."

NATO's official communique was released after the summit and now reflects that "a cyberattack would lead to the invocation of Article 5" on a case-by-case basis, showing the increased threat nations are facing in the cyber realm.

"I constantly remind Americans that when America was attacked for the first time on its shores since what happened back at the end of World War II, NATO stepped up," the president said in a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier Monday, referencing the 9/11 terror attacks. Leaving the NATO headquarters Monday night, Biden visited the Sept. 11 memorial, a twisted piece of the World Trade Center.

"I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there," he said earlier Monday. "The United States is there."

Biden's endorsement of NATO stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who called the alliance "obsolete," which he later backtracked, and once declined to endorse Article 5, which has been a key tenet of the alliance since it was created in 1949.

Another major area of discussion was the winding down of troops in Afghanistan. While Biden's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops out of the country by Sept. 11 is known to have frustrated some European allies, the president touted what he claimed was "strong consensus in the room."

"Our troops are coming home, but we agreed that our diplomatic, economic and humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people and our support for the Afghan national defense and security forces will endure," Biden said.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top U.S. general in the Middle East, said Monday that the U.S. is about halfway through its military drawdown in Afghanistan and is on schedule to meet Biden's deadline.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Priceless Picasso painting on exhibit in a supermarket near the beer aisle

Michel MAKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

(ESSONNE, France) -- A Picasso painting is on display in an unlikely place -- a supermarket.

The supermarket in Essonne, France, is hosting works from the National Museum of Modern Art in an effort to provide more people access to art.

Picasso's "L'Atelier" intrigued customers who came to do their shopping some of whom wondered whether the artwork was an actual Picasso painting.

One customer, Ibrib Joannem, said the painting, "does something to me."

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted "L'Atelier" in October 1955 in memory of another great artist and his friend, Henri Matisse. The work depicts the interior of Picasso's studio in a villa in Cannes, France.

"L'Atelier" belongs to the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou Museum in Paris. Clandestine security, police and other emergency workers are on hand to ensure the safety of the priceless work of art.

The unusual exhibit space, the market, is located between two relatively small towns, Vigneux-sur-Seine and Montgeron, allowing inhabitants to take in artwork typically displayed in national museums in France's largest cities.

"We can take the children easily here while it is often difficult to go to Paris," said Aline Vidal, who was with her granddaughters, ages 5 and 6.

"I am delighted that this work is presented in the midst of pumpkins, watermelons and beers," said Serge Lasvignes, president of the Centre Pompidou, "where reality is, where people's lives are."

"It is not the collection of the Centre Pompidou but that of France, because it is national, and we share it with all French people, wherever they are," Lasvignes added.

Mayor of Montgeron, Sylvie Carillon said there was a partnership between the Essonne region and the Centre Pompidou to make art more accessible and the supermarket seemed, "very appropriate for that."

"I was very moved to see that even supermarket employees were looking at the painting with big eyes. There was a lot of emotion," Carillon told ABC News.

"This project is truly about relocating artworks for larger audiences ... for people who are not used to going to museums, for example," she said.

And indeed, Picasso himself reportedly said: "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Some therapists agree, saying there's a psychological benefit in making art accessible to the masses.

"Definitely art facilitates the externalization of feelings and can trigger desires to open your heart with your family and friends," psychotherapist Yves Wauthier-Freymann told ABC News, adding that "art for everyone" can help people believe that "infinite possibilities exist and will open a new perspective."

Taking art masterpieces out of "ordinary locations" in the heart of Paris is a goal of the Centre Pompidou, a spokesperson for the museum said. Other artwork has been exhibited at Fleury-Merogis prisons and at a courthouse in Bobigny. The next exhibition will take place at a social center in Evry, another area in Essone, on July 3.

The Essone region is set to get its own art museum in December 2025, the New Centre Pompidou -- 40 minutes by car from Paris. The New Centre will host 120,000 permanent collection pieces currently stored in Paris. The center will also feature an exhibition space.

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Amid pandemic, 'Me Too' comes to Egypt

Emilie Richardson/ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- It began after Sabah Khodir said she saw a woman's social media post accusing a college student, Ahmed Bassam Zaki, of being a sexual predator and of blackmailing women.

Feeling frustrated after reading the allegations against Bassam Zaki, a student at the American University of Cairo, Khodir took action.

"I took a picture of him, and then I just picked the most luminous colors I could find. I just started circling his face, placing arrows [on it]," Khodir, a writer and activist based in Washington, D.C., said.

She also detailed the allegations of abuse by Bassam Zaki that she received from countless women with evidence like text messages and voice recordings.

Khodir posted the photo and allegations on social media in June 2020, and it went viral. Her post received attention from politicians, celebrities and even Egypt's top religious scholars who condemned Zaki's reported actions. In December, Zaki was sentenced to 11 years in prison for attempted rape against three women and drug possession.

The post also led to a network of women joining forces on social media calling out other men for sexual assault or harassment in Egypt -- sparking the country's very own Me Too movement in the middle of the pandemic.

A year later, women are continuing to help victims of assault in Egypt get justice.

A United Nations Women report found that 99% of Egyptian women experienced some form of sexual assault. Activists like Khodir say women have been hesitant to report their sexual assault or harassment because of fear they would be blamed or face backlash from family.

"Some laws and regulations are now starting to pay attention to the idea of gender equity and gender equality. But that doesn't mean we are exactly where we need to be," said Dr. Sahar Khamis, affiliate professor of Women Studies at the University of Maryland.

In July, Egypt approved a law to protect the identities of women who report sexual abuse. The National Council of Women in Egypt, headed by Dr. Maya Morsy has urged women to report their stories and seek justice. They received over 400 complaints from women within days of the viral post about Zaki.

"Women are not just coming forward, they're revolting, and they're saying, you know, one way or another someone's going to pay for what they did," said Khodir.

An Instagram account called Assault Police was created, giving Arab women a platform to report assaults and seek resources for help. It is one of countless accounts opened to support women's claims of abuses.

Khodir acts as a middleman by connecting victims to psychiatrists and lawyers. Noor El-Gohary, a commercial lawyer in Egypt, is one of those lawyers who has helped take cases to the National Council of Women and prosecutors' offices.

"We need more women in the judicial entity to start," said El-Gohary. "Women have been banned from applying to judicial positions for several years now."

The Egyptian State Council recently announced that it will begin appointing female judges to the council starting October. Egypt still faces backlash for numerous lawsuits against female celebrities and social media users accused of indecency and violating family values.

"There's definitely this push and pull mechanism," said Khamis. "You can get new laws, and new decisions, like allowing women to be judges. But then you see the personal court, or the personal law."

In March, the Egyptian parliament discussed a new bill that would change women's rights and responsibilities around divorce and marriage. Women's rights group call the proposed law a 200-year setback.

Activists like Khodir continue to push for reform through social media as she faces regular death threats from men online.

"There's been this circulation of thoughts saying that I've done this because I want to ruin my country's name. Whereas the it's quite the opposite. It's because I love my country so much. I think it deserves better. I think it can be better," Khodir said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Netanyahu ousted following Knesset vote

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(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- Benjamin Netanyahu has been ousted as Israel's prime minister and Naftali Bennet is now the country's new leader following Knesset's vote Sunday.

The vote was close: 60 in favor, 59 against (including one of Bennet’s own party members).

Under the coalition deal, right-wing Yamina party leader Bennett becomes Israel's next prime minister for the next two years. In August 2023 Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid takes over for the following two years.

In a speech to the Knesset, Bennett outlined several points. He said that renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will "once again lend legitimacy to one of the most discriminatory and violent regimes in the world.”

He also added that Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons: "Israel is not party to the agreement, and will maintain full freedom to act."

On Gaza, he said he hopes the ceasefire in the south is maintained: "But if Hamas again chooses the path of violence against Israeli civilians, it will encounter a wall of iron."

He also thanked President Joe Biden, for standing alongside Israel during the last operation in Gaza and for his longstanding commitment to the security of Israel: "My government will make an effort to deepen and nurture relations with our friends in both parties -- bipartisan. If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust, and mutual respect," he said.

Netanyahu led Israel for 12 years.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Canadian cop killed in line of duty after being run over by couple in stolen truck

Saskatchewan Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Facebook

(NEW YORK) -- A Canadian police officer has been killed in the line of duty after being run over during a traffic stop of a couple driving a stolen truck.

The incident occurred at approximately 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 12, when 26-year-old Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Constable Shelby Patton began following two suspects who were driving a stolen truck from Manitoba, according to a statement from the Saskatchewan RCMP commanding officer, Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore.

Constable Patton subsequently initiated a traffic stop of the truck in the town of Wolseley but, during the course of the stop, the officer was struck and killed by the vehicle he pulled over while he was standing outside of his car. Patton died on the scene.

“This morning I, along with the Indian Head Detachment Commander and Saskatchewan RCMP Chaplain, had to tell Constable Patton's wife the difficult news that he is not coming home,” said Blackmore. “I am heartbroken for her and her family. [His family] have lost a husband, son and brother. We will continue to support them during what is an extremely tragic time. No one should have to wake up and learn their family member died as a result of doing their job and this is what happened today to Constable Patton's loved ones.”

The suspects, an adult male and an adult female, immediately fled the scene of the incident after striking Patton with the stolen truck but were located two hours later at approximately 10 a.m. in a rural northeast area of Francis, Saskatchewan, with the assistance of RCMP Police Dog Services.

“I would like to express sincere appreciation to a member of the public who provided medical assistance to Constable Patton until emergency responders could arrive,” said Blackmore. “Also, to farmers in the area who provided assistance to our responding police officers who arrested the suspects.”

Patton had worked at the Indian Head Detachment since 2015, according to the Saskatchewan RCMP, the entirety of his six years and four months with the police force.

The RCMP Major Crime Unit North has taken the lead on this investigation with the assistance of multiple RCMP Detachments, Collision Reconstruction and Forensic Identification Services, among other supporting units and partner agencies, according to Blackmore. The investigation is ongoing.

To honor Patton, flags at every RCMP detachment across the province of Saskatchewan will remain at half-mast until sunset on the day of the funeral. No details about his funeral arrangements have been made yet.

Said Blackmore: “A tragedy such as this shakes our entire RCMP family to its core, coast to coast. Although we wear a police uniform, we are regular people, going to our job each day, just as everyone else does. Today, Constable Patton will not come home from doing his job protecting the public.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bidens meet privately with Queen Elizabeth II after royal salute, inspecting guards

Richard Pohle-WPA Pool/Getty Images

(LONDON) — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited Windsor Castle Sunday afternoon, where Queen Elizabeth II welcomed them on the dais in the castle's quadrangle and the president inspected the guards.

After Marine One touched down on the lawn by the castle, the Bidens and the queen then stood on the dais while the "Star Spangled Banner" played. Biden wore his familiar aviator sunglasses during the outdoor event.

A Guard of Honour formed from The Queen's Company First Battalion Grenadier Guards gave a royal salute.

Biden then walked onto the quadrangle and inspected the guard -- without his aviators.

The president returned to the dais and after the troops marched past, the Bidens and Elizabeth exited the dais and they went inside the castle to have tea privately.

About an hour later, the Bidens left Windsor and climbed aboard Marine One.

The president told reporters on the tarmac at London Heathrow later that the queen reminded him of his mother and that he invited her to the White House. Biden described Elizabeth as "extremely gracious," and said that they "had a great talk."

The first lady was next meeting with United Kingdom veterans who participated in Walk of America, a 2018 expedition led by Walking with the Wounded. She had served as the patron of this event.

While the president travels on to Brussels for Monday's NATO summit, the first lady heads back to the United States.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Queen celebrates 1st Trooping of the Colour since Prince Philip's death

UK Press Pool/UK Press via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- For the second year in a row, Queen Elizabeth's official birthday celebrations were drastically scaled back and relocated from the capital, London, to Windsor Castle, where the queen is currently in residence.

The normally grand military event marking the monarch’s official birthday is known as “Trooping the Color," and usually sees more than a thousand soldiers, hundreds of horses and hundreds more musicians take part in a meticulously orchestrated parade through London and ending outside Buckingham Palace.

The event has a more than 260-year history celebrating the birthday of the sovereign, but since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, the fanfare and pageantry has been hugely trimmed-down, involving a much smaller group of parading soldiers on display within Windsor Castle’s ancient quadrangle, lasting just 20 minutes. The birthday parade was also entirely closed to the public, but televised.

The senior military officer responsible for planning the remodeled event, Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone, said his aim was to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the queen. He and his team have been working for months to stage the scaled-back parade at Windsor – slightly larger in scope than the “mini-Trooping” last year at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

This year’s parade takes place two days after what would have been the 100th birthday of the queen’s husband Prince Philip, who died in April. It is the queen’s first Trooping without him.

Instead she was accompanied by her cousin, Prince Edward the Duke of Kent. Queen Elizabeth, freshly back in Windsor after traveling to Cornwall for the start of the Group of Seven summit, was greeted with a rendition of the national anthem, before inspecting her troops from the Household Cavalry and the Scots Guards. F Company Scots Guards Trooped the Color of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards through the ranks of guardsmen on parade.

The guardsmen taking part have been working through the pandemic supporting local communities and the U.K.’s National Health Service, or have been serving overseas on military operations.

Lt Col Stone revealed the pandemic had proved a major challenge because of the mandatory self-isolation periods, and the lack of daily practice of ceremonial duties – which have been scrapped to avoid crowds gathering in central London.

“…From a skillset perspective it's been very difficult to achieve what I hope will be a good standard because we're not doing the Changing of the Guard ceremony every day due to the pandemic -- that applies to horses, the musicians and the Guardsmen with their foot drill and rifle drill," Stone said.

The short event was then marked with a 41-gun royal salute from Windsor’s East Lawn, and a spectacular Royal Air Force flyover soaring across Windsor Castle.

The queen seemed in great spirits Saturday, having created a stir on social media for her quips at the G-7 summit. While waiting for the camera, posing with world leaders on the Cornish Coast, she was heard off-mic saying, "Are you supposed to look like you're enjoying yourself?" to chuckles from all sides.

Whilst visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, the queen again stole the show insisting on using a ceremonial sword to cut a cake in celebration of The Big Lunch initiative.

Upon being informed there was a traditional knife available for cutting as she was visibly struggling with the long (but perhaps rather blunt) ceremonial sword, she quipped: "I know there is, this is more unusual," before being helped by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The 95-year-old monarch's birthday, which is actually on April 21, is officially celebrated each year on the second Saturday of June.

The celebration is typically an event that brings together all members of the royal family taking part in the procession and in carriages, and ends up on the front balcony of Buckingham Palace for an iconic group shot to observe the traditional flyover by fighter jets from the Royal Air Force.

The last time the family was seen together on that balcony was in 2019, just a few weeks after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had welcomed their firstborn baby Archie. Harry and Meghan now live stateside in the U.S in Caliornia; their young family now grown to four members, with the arrival of baby Lilibet last week.

The queen has attended a Trooping the Color every year of her reign, apart from in 1955 when the event was canceled due to a national rail strike.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jill Biden, Kate Middleton visit school to focus on early childhood education

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- First lady Jill Biden and Kate Middleton on Friday visited a school in Cornwall, the site of the G-7 summit, to put a focus on the importance of early childhood education.

Biden, a longtime teacher, and the duchess of Cambridge toured the state-funded Connor Downs Academy, which works with students who have experienced trauma in their lives.

They walked in wearing face masks, but were the only ones wearing them inside.

The two women chatted with the students, ages 4-11, asking them about the projects they were working on and the students, all wearing uniforms, showed off their work.

They were told by the teacher that the students were learning about how to make the world a better place and how to sound out words and write sentences.

Biden seemed very much in her element, sitting down with students who were reading Greta and the Giants, working on math and drawing.

Biden and Middleton sat at three different tables during their time inside and at the final one, where the teacher said they were learning about the White House and Kensington Palace, Biden picked up a photo of the White House and leaned over to a young girl to point out where her bedroom is.

Asked how important early childhood education is, especially in a pandemic, Biden answered, "It’s the foundation of everything. I can tell you that as a teacher at the upper levels, if they don’t have a good foundation, they fall so far behind. So, this is amazing to see what these children are doing and how far advanced they are at 4 or 5 years old. It’s impressive."

Later, Biden and Middleton went outside with a tray of carrots so that the students could feed one of the school's five rabbits they take care of, named Storm.

They then listened to a roundtable of educators from the U.K and others from the U.S., participating virtually, in a discussion that focused on mental health, early childhood development and including parents involved earlier in their schooling.

"As an educator myself, so much of what you’re saying has certainly touched my life," Biden said, reflecting on the years she spent teaching at a psychiatric hospital.

"Early childhood education is so important to lay the foundation for all of our students,” she said, and thanked the duchess for inviting her.

Middleton said it was a "huge honor" to have Biden in the United Kingdom and thanked her for her interest in early childhood education.

"I have a million questions written down here," Biden said, as the event was ending. “I had so many things that I wanted to ask about, but I guess I’ll have to just come back."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Duchess Kate makes first public comment on Prince Harry, Meghan's newborn daughter Lilibet

Aaron Chown/WPA Pool/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Duchess Kate on Friday made her first public comment about her newborn niece, Lilibet "Lili" Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, the daughter of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan.

At the end of a roundtable discussion on early childhood education with first lady Jill Biden in Cornwall, Kate, the wife of Harry's brother, Prince William, was asked if she had any wishes for her new niece.

“I wish her all the very best," Kate, the mother of Lili's three cousins, said with a smile. "I can’t wait to meet her because we haven’t yet met her yet, but hopefully that will be soon.”

When asked whether she had FaceTimed to see the newborn, the duchess said, “No, I haven’t no.”

Harry and Meghan's daughter, their second child, was born on June 4 in Santa Barbara, California, near where the family moved last year after stepping down as senior members of the royal family.

After the newborn's birth was announced, Buckingham Palace said in a statement, "The Queen, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been informed and are delighted with the news of the birth of a daughter for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex."

William and Kate also shared their own congratulations to Harry and Meghan on social media, writing, "We are all delighted by the happy news of the arrival of baby Lili. Congratulations to Harry, Meghan and Archie."

William and Kate, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, have not seen Meghan, who wed Harry in 2018, in person in over a year, since the family moved to California.

The Cambridges saw Prince Harry for the first time in April, when Harry flew to the United Kingdom to attend the funeral of his and William's grandfather, Prince Philip.

The two couples, who were once known as the "Fab Four," have more recently been at odds amid Harry and Meghan's departure from their senior royal roles.

Harry and Meghan -- who did not travel to the U.K. for Philip's funeral because she was pregnant -- spoke out in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey in March that spilled tensions in the royal family into public view.

In that interview, Harry described himself and William as being on "different paths."

"The relationship is space at the moment, and, you know, time heals all things, hopefully," Harry said. "I love William to bits. He's my brother. We've been through hell together, and we have a shared experience, but we were on different paths."

It is not known whether other members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth and Harry and William's father, Prince Charles, have met Lili via video since her birth.

A spokesperson for the Sussexes confirmed earlier this week that Queen Elizabeth, after whom Lili is named, was the first family member Harry called before announcing her birth on Sunday.

“The Duke spoke with his family in advance of the announcement, in fact his grandmother was the first family member he called," the Sussexes' spokesperson said in a statement. "During that conversation, he shared their hope of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honor. Had she not been supportive, they would not have used the name.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jill Biden wears 'LOVE' jacket to global summit: 'We're bringing love from America'

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

(CORNWALL, England) -- It's not just a big week abroad for the president -- first lady Jill Biden also is making her debut on the international stage.

And on Thursday, in her first full day in the United Kingdom for a summit with global leaders, she sent a message with her wardrobe.

When she and her husband joined British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, for a stroll outside Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall, she sported a jacket with "LOVE" emblazoned on the back.

"We're bringing love from America," she told reporters. "This is a global conference and we are trying to bring unity across the globe and I think it’s needed right now, that people feel a sense of unity from all the countries and feel a sense of hope."

While what an American first lady wears abroad often draws lots of attention, Jill Biden also is using President Joe Biden's first overseas trip since taking office to highlight her mission to help veterans and military families.

Just as the president is stressing how world leaders can work together -- unlike former President Donald Trump -- Jill Biden's wardrobe choice (she wore the same jacket at her husband's presidential campaign kickoff rally in 2019), is in sharp contrast to Melania Trump's debut at her husband's first G-7 summit, where she was criticized for wearing a designer jacket that listed for $51,500.

Later in 2018, Trump drew fire when, leaving for a visit to detention centers for migrant children in Texas, she wore a jacket that read, "I really don't care, do u?"

Also unklike Melania Trump, who shied away from the spotlight, Biden was open and talkative with reporters.

Asked how her husband is preparing for his one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week, she jokingly called him "over-prepared."

"I think he's so well prepared. I mean he's, you know -- we, he's been studying for weeks, you know, working up to today," she said. "Of course, he knows most of the leaders that -- that will be here, and Joe loves foreign policy. This is his forte, so I think the meetings are going to be great."

For Jill Biden, the time in the spotlight on the world stage is a marked shift from her start in politics as a reluctant senator's wife -- a role she embraced over Biden's nearly 50-year career, highlighting issues of importance to her like military families and education.

At the couple's first stop in the U.K. on Wednesday, at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, the first lady spoke before the president, recalling how she came from a military family herself, and delivering an impassioned plea on the need to support them.

Speaking to 1,000 airmen, airwomen, and their spouses and children in the audience, she said, "Our military families may not wear a uniform, but you are as crucial to our military as radar is to a fighter jet."

She explained how supporting military families by providing support for entrepreneurship, quality child care, food and mental health resources was one of her top priorities and said her initiative as first lady will help make sure that the families of service members, including those stationed abroad, deserve America's backing.

"Our military is a community bound together by love," she added. "Love for our country. Love for the men and women who served beside you, your husbands and wives, your moms and dads, and love for the communities that you build together."

She also raised Joining Forces, an initiative for military families she and Michelle Obama founded in 2011, and restarted as first lady ahead of taking part in some events related to that work over the next few days.

To highlight her cause en route to the U.K., she tweeted, "Prepping for the G7," along with a photo of her reviewing a binder on Air Force One.

While Biden met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, she took tea with her counterpart, Carrie Johnson. Plans to tour St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall had to be canceled due to poor weather.

She will then take part Friday in welcoming events at the G-7 summit -- the first meeting of the world's leaders in two years due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, she's slated to hold a discussion with members of Bude Surf Veterans, a volunteer group that assists U.K. military veterans with physical or mental health injuries through surfing.

On her final day, the first lady and the president will meet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.

"Joe and I are both looking forward to meeting the Queen, and that's an exciting part of the visit for us," Biden said Thursday.

She's also slated on Sunday to meet with U.K. veterans who participated in Walk of America, a 2018 event led by Walking with the Wounded in which three veterans from the U.S. and three veterans from the U.K., walked 1,000 miles across the U.S. to share the stories of wounded, ill, or injured service members. The first lady served as the patron of the expedition and joined the participants in St. Louis at the time.

Turning 70 last week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Biden is the oldest sitting first lady in modern history, and the first to hold a paid job outside of the White House, continuing her longtime career as a community college English teacher.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden announces US to donate 500M vaccine doses in show of American leadership

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

(CORNWALL) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday announced his plan to buy an additional 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to distribute to lower-income countries, increasing the U.S. commitment to fighting the pandemic across the globe, a key goal of the G-7 summit.

"That's a historic step. The largest single purchase and donation COVID-19 vaccines by any single country ever. Importantly, this is the mRNA vaccine, which is proven to be extremely effective against COVID-19 and every known variant of that virus thus far," Biden said, touting the announcement in the Cornwall village of St. Ives, the United Kingdom seaside resort village where world leaders are gathering.

"These half a billion vaccines will start to be shipped in August, as quickly as they roll off the manufacturing line. 200 million of these doses will be delivered this year, 2021. And 300 million more will be delivered in the first half of 2022," Biden added.

On a call with reporters previewing Biden’s announcement Thursday, a senior administration official clarified that the 500 million doses are in addition to the 80 million doses the U.S. has already announced it would share around the world by the end of 2021 -- for a total of 580 million.

The president has sought to highlight the importance of democracies during his first foreign trip as president, and reestablish the United States as a leader on the world stage under his administration. In his remarks, Biden touted the investment in the global vaccination effort as an American duty.

"This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can, and our responsibility to our values. We value the inherent dignity of all people. In times of trouble, Americans reach out to offer help and to offer a helping hand. That's who we are," he said.

Biden also stressed getting vaccines distributed around the world was also in American’s best interest to keep variants in check, and improve the global economy following the impacts of the pandemic.

Biden had previously criticized other countries, like Russia and China, for seeking to curry favor with their vaccine programs, and argued the new surge of doses from the U.S. were being offered with “no strings attached.”

"Let me be clear, just as with the 80 million doses we previously announced, the United States is providing these half-million doses with no strings attached. Let me say it again, with no strings attached. Our vaccine donations don't include pressure for favors or potential concessions. We're doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic, that's it. Period," he said.

While the commitment is a sharp increase in the U.S. commitment to distribute vaccines around the globe, it is still far short of the 11 billion vaccines the World Health organization estimates is needed to vaccinate the world.

The official said while the full cost is not firmly known, doses would be paid for in part by funding previously set aside for the Covax effort, and funding from Biden’s American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year.

"The U.S. plans to work with COVAX to utilize the second $2 billion in funding of the $4 billion that we committed to the fight against the pandemic," the official said, adding the additional $1.5 billion for the plan would be paid for by already appropriated funds from the American Rescue Plan.

"The United States, through the American Rescue Plan, has allocated a significant amount of money for every step along the chain of vaccination and building the resilience of public health systems, and this monumental commitment to five of half a billion Pfizer doses will fit into that chain," the administration official said.

Biden previewed that this announcement comes ahead of further commitment from G7 leaders, but stressed that the doses were just a start to get the virus under control globally, and would still need to get distributed into arms around the world.

"That's why the United States is already providing hundreds of millions in funding to support last-minute vaccination efforts, including new funding from Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan and working with programs in Latin America, Asia, and Africa," he said. "We're going to keep manufacturing doses, donating doses, getting jabs, as they say here in the U.K., in arms until the world has beaten this virus."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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