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How Biden Tried To Mend Fences With European Allies

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Biden came to Europe to mend fences with U.S. allies. He wants them to work together to stand up to Moscow and Beijing. Biden has notched some wins ahead of his meeting tomorrow with Russia's Vladimir Putin. But when he comes home to Washington, that's when the hard part of his mission really begins. Here's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez in Brussels.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: It was a picture-perfect moment on the English seaside, with the French president. Aviators in hand, President Biden grinned at Emmanuel Macron, a new friend who agreed that with Biden, America was back to tackle big problems.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: What we need is cooperation. And I think it's great to have the U.S. president part of the club and be willing to cooperate.

ORDOÑEZ: back in the club but having some tough conversations, Biden pushed allies to take a stronger stance against China on issues like human rights, investment and COVID-19. Bonnie Glaser is a China expert at The German Marshall Fund.

BONNIE GLASER: I think there's a growing convergence that China is the challenge of our time and that countries that are like-minded have to work together.

ORDOÑEZ: But there's uncertainty about this shift, too, worries that getting too aggressive will backfire, hurting trade and their economies.

GLASER: Well, we have seen a growing tendency in China to retaliate against countries that criticize it.

ORDOÑEZ: In his talks here, Biden had an easier sell on Russia, building a united front before taking on Putin in Geneva. He says he heard nothing but thanks from NATO members.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: 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.

ORDOÑEZ: There's relief here. Former President Donald Trump had always made these things so chaotic. Heather Conley worked on European issues in the George W. Bush State Department.

HEATHER CONLEY: They're not managing an American president at the summit. They're actually working with the American president.

ORDOÑEZ: But after the summits are over, the hard work begins.

CONLEY: This is really where the allies are saying, where are you going? What's next?

ORDOÑEZ: Flying into Brussels, national security adviser Jake Sullivan reflects on what's ahead. He knows the White House and allies need to deliver.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: That is an affirmative strategy but also has an element of ensuring we compete with the position - from a position of strength with China. And now we've got to actually execute on it.

ORDOÑEZ: And execute in a way that voters see the benefits, people who saw merit in Trump's America First approach and don't understand why Biden is spending time overseas when there are pressing issues at home. European leaders are concerned Biden won't be able to make the case.

JOHN SIMON: A big challenge Biden faces is convincing his counterparts. You know, is - does he speak for the country as a whole?

ORDOÑEZ: John Simon was an ambassador and aide in the Bush administration. He says Europeans worry that whoever comes after Biden might go back to a more Trump-like approach.

SIMON: At this point, I don't know how you necessarily answer that effectively.

ORDOÑEZ: It's a question Biden will have to answer when he gets back to America.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "SHADOWS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.