Yesterday the president delivered his first foreign policy address since taking office, and he chose to give it at the State Department. The location underscored Biden’s message that “diplomacy is back,” and the visit there afforded him to the opportunity to praise the work of Foreign Service Officers in an earlier set of remarks. The speech included the important announcement that the U.S. would halt its support for Saudi coalition “offensive operations” in Yemen, and it mentioned New START, the arms reduction treaty that had been due to expire today, and he noted that the US and Russia had finalized the five-year extension of the treaty earlier this week.
On Yemen, Biden stated that the US would cut off support to offensive operations, and he said that this included “relevant arms sales.” As I said yesterday, this is a good start and an important first step. The president mentioned the new Yemen envoy, Tim Lenderking, and said that the envoy will “work with the U.N. envoy and all parties of the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution.” Biden emphasized the importance of diplomacy and humanitarian relief, and he said simply, “This war has to end.”
One of the main themes of the speech was the president’s emphasis on the importance of allies. He listed a number of allies, almost all of which were formal treaty allies, and he did not refer positively to any of the clients in the Middle East that are often mistaken for allies. The list was presumably not intended to be exhaustive, but it suggests that Biden puts more stock in genuine treaty allies than he does in other states.
Notably absent from the speech were any references to the nuclear deal or Iran policy as such, and there was likewise no discussion of ongoing US wars except for our involvement in the war on Yemen. It may be that these issues were not addressed because the administration is still getting up to speed and filling out the relevant teams of officials, but it could also be that these omissions reflect a lack of urgency on the administration’s part. North Korea and Venezuela also went unmentioned.