Biden meets the new British leader, the royal family, at a fraught moment in US-UK relations

LONDON – President Biden visited Westminster Hall here on Sunday to visit the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, her first official visit to the United Kingdom to attend the funeral of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

As he stood before the casket, Biden took a deep breath before making the sign of the cross, then placed his hand over his heart. With the visit, the president and first lady Jill Biden became the latest — and most high-profile — visitors to the royal family, which drew thousands of people in lines that stretched for miles.

“She was just like her image in person,” Biden said Sunday after signing an obituary for her. “Dignified, respectful and all about service.”

From his arrival on Air Force One on Saturday night to his use of the presidential motor vehicle, nicknamed “The Beast,” for British officials he chose to engage, Biden’s itinerary has been closely watched by the British public. Other world leaders are pushed into buses.

With a new monarch in King Charles III and a recently installed prime minister in Liz Truss, the United Kingdom is experiencing “rare” political change and Britons see a “special relationship” between the UK and the US. A source of continuity and stability, said Brian Glass, associate professor of global politics at University College London.

While the gathering of hundreds of heads of state and dignitaries will highlight several global flashpoints, White House officials said Biden’s visit will be more about honoring the Queen and the British people than political or diplomatic work. Growing tensions between London and Washington.

Why is the world fascinated by Queen Elizabeth?

Biden was initially on a list of foreign leaders the British government said Truss would meet with ahead of the funeral, but the White House said on Saturday the meeting would take place next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Earlier in the week, White House aides declined to outline an agenda of policy goals or preview diplomatic meetings. “The main reason for going to London is to pay our respects to the Queen and the Royal Family and the people of Great Britain,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “That is the main purpose of the visit. I don’t have any other meetings to talk to right now.

When Biden’s UK itinerary was released hours later, it did not include meetings with officials outside the royal family. In addition to visiting Westminster Hall on Sunday, the president signed an official condolence book for the Queen and attended a reception for world leaders hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. He was joined by the first lady at each of the events as part of a limited US delegation that did not include former US presidents.

He will attend the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday before returning to Washington and a week of more diplomacy at the United Nations. White House aides say Biden will wait until the General Assembly, which he attends in New York starting Tuesday, to push his foreign policy vision among his fellow world leaders.

Given the sensitivities surrounding the politics of the Queen’s funeral, Glass said it might be a safer approach. “There’s going to be a lot of downside to Biden making this visit about policy because it’s supposed to be about the queen,” he said. “I think the voyage will be very dangerous. There is no improvement in rocking the boat.

But the president, who formerly chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to pride himself on the personal relationships he has built with foreign officials over his half-century in public life, making it difficult to avoid talking about policy when surrounded by his colleagues around the world. platform.

Many world leaders — including officials from France, Germany, India, Poland and China — have already been prompted to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stubbornly high global inflation, China’s growing sphere of influence, climate change, colonialism and more. Threats to democracy around the world. Many of the faces in the crowd at the funeral will be familiar to the president.

“I know every major world leader of the last 40 years,” Biden said during a commencement speech at South Carolina State University in December, repeating a favorite line. “I’ve spoken to more than 140 heads of state since I became president.”

Biden respected the queen. But his Irish roots complicated it.

Although Biden has spoken with Truss, he has yet to meet the 47-year-old prime minister, who took office earlier this month, in person. It is rare for a US president to visit the UK without meeting the prime minister, but the circumstances of this visit – the funeral of a 70-year-old queen – are rare. It is possible that Biden and Truss will meet by chance, as they will attend several events in London.

Truss has taken a hard line against Russia and its aggression toward Ukraine, an approach in line with what Biden has sought from his foreign counterparts. But on other issues, including a post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland and a potential trade deal between the United Kingdom and the United States, Truss’s views are not seamlessly aligned with Biden’s position.

By avoiding such potential tension points during the trip, Biden aimed to signal support to the British public while taking time to mourn and remember Elizabeth, who was away from political battles.

Biden said on Sunday that the Queen, who visited Windsor Castle for tea last year, reminded her of her mother in the way she would touch him as she leaned over. “Are you alright, can I do anything for you, is there anything you need?” She had a similar look. ” he said. “But ‘be sure of what you must do.’ “

The president adjusted his schedule to attend the funeral and changed the date of his speech in the United States from Tuesday to Wednesday. With Biden traveling with few aides and no regular bilateral meetings or press releases scheduled, his visit with all the details of the US presidency will no doubt have an impact on those looking for clues about the state of UK-US relations.

There were also some other foreign leaders strongly encouraged Due to the logistical difficulties of accommodating many diplomatic entourages, the British government gave up their private planes and traded their private limousines for shuttles. However, Biden received a warm welcome when he flew out of London on Air Force One and rode in a motorcade of at least 15 vehicles.

Official invitations to the United States to attend the funeral are limited to Biden and the first lady, the White House said. Queen Elizabeth passed away on September 8 at the age of 96. Biden is the 13th U.S. president to meet during a tenure that spanned seven decades.

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