Looking to steady his presidential campaign after a debate performance against other Democratic contenders that hurt him in public opinion polls, Joe Biden on Thursday blasted U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign policy as erratic and extreme. 

In his most extensive remarks to date on foreign affairs, the former vice president said Trump had damaged America’s “reputation and our place in the world, and I quite frankly believe our ability to lead the world.” 

The Republican president has unsettled Washington’s allies by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, a nuclear deal with Iran and a trans-Pacific trade agreement, and has also threatened to leave the North Atlantic Treaty 

For Biden, who served in the U.S. Senate for 35 years, it was a much-needed return to firmer ground after weeks of having to defend his civil rights record, while allowing him to train his attention on Trump rather than other Democrats. 

Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris speaks in the Spin Room after the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season in Miami, June 27, 2019.

Kamala Harris, a black U.S. senator from California, assailed Biden, 76, in last month’s debate over his past stance on the use of busing to integrate schools and for remarks about his willingness to work with segregationists while in the Senate more than 40 years ago. 

Biden apologized for those remarks, but he has seen some erosion in support from Democratic voters, with Harris largely reaping the benefit and the field tightening in general among those vying to win the party’s nomination to run against Trump. 

Argument for collective action

In his address at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, Biden criticized Trump for abdicating the United States’ leadership role in the world, and he argued that collective action was necessary to confront threats posed by climate change, nuclear proliferation terrorism and cyberwarfare. 

As president, Biden said he would pull most U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, end U.S support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and reaffirm the nation’s commitment to NATO. 

Domestically, he said he would terminate Trump’s travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries and end the practice of separating migrant families at the U.S. border with Mexico. 

Biden has sharply criticized Trump for walking away from the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, which Biden would reinstate should Tehran comply with its provisions. 

Biden said that as president he also would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate accord and would convene a global summit on climate change. 

Biden said he also would push for more ironclad commitments from North Korea to abandon its nuclear program than Trump has so far demanded. 

FILE – In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Collier, Pa., on March 6, 2018, and President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 20, 2018.

For his part, Trump has not held back from criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. Trump has contended, among other things, that the Iran deal was too lenient and that Obama and Biden did not do enough to contain China’s economic aggression. 

Ahead of Biden’s speech, the Republican National Committee and a pro-Trump super PAC released lengthy critiques of Biden’s judgment on foreign affairs, pointing out that, among other things, Biden advised Obama to not go forward with the 2012 raid 
that killed Osama bin Laden. 

Not yet a target

Biden’s record has not yet been a front-burner issue among his rivals for the Democratic nomination, but his vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq while in the Senate has been denounced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and others. 

At a campaign rally in Pennsylvania in May, Trump defended his “America First” policies, telling his supporters that Biden “said that he’s running to quote ‘˜save the world.’ … Well, he wants to save every country but ours.” 

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More than 20 U.N. ambassadors have sent a letter to the human rights council in Geneva condemning China’s treatment of Uighurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

U.N. diplomats from 22 mostly European nations along with Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand signed the letter. The United States has not yet signed on.

The ambassadors express concern about “credible reports of arbitrary detention … as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”

They urge China to stop detaining minorities and grant them “freedom of movement” within their communities.

FILE PHOTO: An ethnic Uighur woman carries a metal rod as she walks down a main road in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, July 10, 2019.

The ambassadors chose to raise their concerns in a letter instead of a resolution, which China would have undoubtedly squelched.

“The joint statement is important not only for Xinjing’s population but for people around the world who depend on the U.N.’s leading rights body to hold even the most powerful countries to account,” the Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, John Fisher, said Wednesday.

China denies holding Uighurs and others in what rights groups and former inmates call “concentration camps” aimed at forcibly integrating them into Chinese society and culture and suppressing their own culture and religion.

China calls the camps “vocational educational centers” set up to train people for jobs and steer them away from alleged extremism and the threat of terrorism.

FILE – Uighurs rest near a food stall and Beijing Olympic Games billboards in Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang province, Aug. 6, 2008.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, Lou Charbonnau, told VOA he was disappointed when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent top counterterrorism officials to visit the camps instead of his human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

Charbonnau said that was a confirmation of China’s claim that it is fighting terrorism instead of violating Muslim rights.

“What we have here is human rights abuses and that’s why Michelle Bachelet needs to be able to go there with her team of experts on terms that she considers acceptable so that they can make a credible and independent evaluation of what’s going on,” he said.

Charbonnau also said he hoped the United States, which has been very outspoken about alleged Chinese human rights violations, would “swallow its pride” and sign the letter.

He said the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council over the panel’s criticism of Israel was a “very shortsighted decision.”

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A Soviet nuclear submarine that sank off the coast of Norway in the Arctic Barents Sea in 1989 is emitting high levels of radiation, researchers said. 

The Komsomolets was a nuclear-powered, titanium-hulled attack submarine equipped with two torpedoes carrying nuclear warheads.  

A joint Norwegian-Russian team of scientists said Wednesday that a remote-controlled mini-sub had taken samples near the wreckage and found the level of radioactivity at the site was up to 100,000 times higher than normal.

The remotely operated vehicle called Aegir 6000 examines the wreck of the Soviet nuclear submarine Komsomolets, southwest of Bear Island in the Norwegian Arctic, Norway, in this handout image released July 10, 2019.

While Russia and Norway have monitored radiation levels annually since the sub sank, it is the first time a submersible was used to conduct the tests. 

“This is, of course, a higher level than we would usually measure out at sea, but the levels we have found now are not alarming,” said expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

Radioactivity levels “thin out” quickly at these depths and there are few fish in the area, she said.

The Komsomolets lies at a depth of about 1,700 meters (1 mile). It sank after a fire broke out on board, killing 42 of its 69 crew members. 

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South Korea’s foreign minister told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Japan’s export curbs against South Korea are “undesirable” for trilateral cooperation, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Japan tightened curbs last week on exports of three materials crucial for smartphone displays and chips, saying trust with South Korea had been broken over a dispute with Seoul over South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War II

The restrictions will affect companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and SK Hynix Inc., which supply chips to companies such as Apple Inc., and South Korea is stepping up diplomatic overtures to their mutual ally the United States to step in.

Widespread damage

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told Pompeo in a phone call late Wednesday that Japan’s trade restrictions may not only cause damage to South Korean companies but could also disrupt the global supply chain and hurt U.S. companies.

Kang “expressed concern that this is undesirable in terms of friendly relations between South Korea and Japan and trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan,” the ministry said. Seoul hoped Tokyo would withdraw the curbs and that the situation would not deteriorate further, it said.

Pompeo “expressed understanding” and both agreed to continue to cooperate and to strengthen communication between the three sides, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Kim Hyun-chong, deputy chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, arrived in Washington Wednesday in an unannounced visit and told reporters he was there to meet officials from the White House and Congress to discuss issues that included Japan’s export curbs.

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This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Katherine Ahn contributed from Washington.

Qatar’s emir has used his visit to Washington this week to highlight his nation’s growing economic and defense ties with the United States, but has said nothing about his apparent bid to mediate U.S.-Iran tensions.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday and Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the Pentagon a day earlier, with both sides praising what they called “increasingly close” strategic and defense relations. They cited Qatari purchases of and agreements to buy U.S.-made aircraft, jet engines and missile defense systems, the joint development of a Qatari petrochemicals complex and Qatar’s expansion of the Al Udeid Airbase hosting U.S. forces.

But the U.S. readouts of Al Thani’s meetings with Trump and Esper made no explicit mention of Iran, whose long-running tensions with Washington have soared in recent months. Neither did Trump nor Al Thani say anything about a Qatari desire to mediate between the United States and Iran, as the two leaders spoke to reporters ahead of their White House talks.

Qatar not only serves as a U.S. ally by hosting the U.S. military’s Central Command forward headquarters at the Al Udeid Airbase, but it also serves as Shi’ite-majority Iran’s best friend among Sunni-led Gulf Arab nations that have largely shunned Tehran in retaliation for its support of anti-Sunni insurgencies in the region. Doha has boosted its economic and diplomatic ties with Tehran since 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar for its perceived support of terrorism and advocacy of improved ties with Iran.

In a report published Tuesday, Qatari news agency Al Jazeera, founded by the emirate’s ruling family, quoted Qatar University politics professor Majed al Ansari as saying Doha is “actively working in mediation between Iran and the United States.” Al Ansari, a former Qatari foreign ministry official, also described that mediation as likely to be a “main topic” of Al Thani’s meetings with U.S. officials in Washington.

In a Tuesday press briefing at the State Department, spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said U.S.-Qatari cooperation in dealing with what she called Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region would be on the agenda of Al Thani’s meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department, June 13, 2019, in Washington.

But some analysts say Al Thani faces multiple obstacles in any effort to mediate U.S.-Iran tensions that have escalated since last year, when Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal in which world powers offered Iran sanctions relief in return for limits on its nuclear program. 

Trump reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran and called on it to negotiate a new deal, saying the existing one did not do enough to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons or engaging in other malign behaviors, such as developing ballistic missiles and supporting U.S.-designated terrorist groups. 

Tehran has called its nuclear ambitions peaceful and vowed to continue those behaviors. It also claimed responsibility for downing a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf last month, while denying U.S. accusations that it attacked six foreign oil tankers in the region with mines since May. 

“I expect Iran to be the thorniest of all the issues that the emir and Trump discuss,” said Varsha Koduvayur, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a VOA Persian interview. 

“Unlike Oman or Kuwait, two Gulf Cooperation Council countries that have officially declared themselves to be neutral, Qatar sent its ambassador back to Tehran in 2017, shortly after the Gulf blockade began, and trade with Iran is just continuing to rise. In my view, this doesn’t put Qatar in any sort of neutral, mediating light,” she said. 

Speaking separately to VOA Persian, Matthew Brodsky, a senior analyst at the Security Studies Group in Washington, said he believes the Trump administration is not interested in any foreign mediation of U.S. tensions with Iran at the present time. 

“The point of the (U.S.) strategy is to create the maximum amount of tension so that the leaders in Tehran reach a decision point (that) would lead them to the table to negotiate over not just their nuclear program but their ballistic missiles and of course their very bad regional behavior,” Brodsky said. “So a lessening of the tension … plays against the White House strategy to bring the leaders in Iran to a decision point, and that requires tension,” he added. 

Iranian intransigence is another barrier to mediation, in the view of James Phillips, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. 

“I doubt that Qatar could play a significant role in easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, because Iran does not want tensions to be eased right now,” Phillip said in another VOA Persian interview. “As long as Tehran wants to continue escalating this slow-motion crisis, I doubt third party efforts will make much of a difference. But if Iran should change its mind, there may be an opening for such a role,” he said. 

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Relentless global warming threatens the potential success of a sweeping set of goals established by the United Nations to tackle inequality, conflict and other ills, officials said on Tuesday.

Climate change imperils food supplies, water and places where people live, endangering the U.N. plan to address these world problems by 2030, according to a report by U.N. officials.

Member nations of the U.N. unanimously adopted 17 global development goals in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling such vexing issues as conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change.

The latest report, which called climate change “the greatest challenge to sustainable development,” came as diplomatic, business and other officials gathered for a high-level U.N. forum to take stock of the goals’ progress.

“The most urgent area for action is climate change,” said Liu Zhenmin, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, in the report.

“The compounded effects will be catastrophic and irreversible,” he said, listing increased extreme weather events, more severe natural disasters and land degradation. “These effects, which will render many parts of the globe uninhabitable, will affect the poor the most.”

Progress has been made on lowering child mortality, boosting immunization rates and global access to electricity, the report said.

Yet extreme poverty, hunger and inequality remain hugely problematic, and more than half of school-age children showed “shockingly low proficiency rates” in reading and math, it said.

Two-thirds of those children were in school.

Human trafficking rates nearly doubled from an average 150 detected victims per country in 2010 to 254 in 2016.

But it was unclear how much of the increase reflected improved reporting systems versus an increase in trafficking, said Francesca Perucci of the U.N.’s statistics division, who worked on the report.

“It’s hard to exactly distinguish the two,” she said at a launch of the report.

But climate change remained paramount.

Greenhouse gases have continued to climb, and “climate change is occurring much faster than anticipated,” the report said.

At this week’s goals summit, 47 countries were expected to present voluntary progress reviews. Almost 100 other countries and four cities including New York have done so.

Earlier U.N. reports said the goals were threatened by the persistence of violence, conflict and lack of private investment. Outside assessments have also cited nationalism, protectionism and insufficient funding.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

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