Biden aims to reassure world on US debt standoff as he consults with Indo-Pacific leaders

Published: May. 20, 2023 at 1:16 PM AKDT
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HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) — President Joe Biden tried to reassure world leaders on Saturday that the United States would not default as he consulted with the heads of Australia, Japan and India in a meeting of the so-called Quad partnership that had been hastily rescheduled because of the debt limit standoff back in Washington.

Hoping to avert an outcome that would rattle the global economy and prove to be a boon to Beijing, Biden opened his third day in Japan at the annual Group of Seven meeting of the world’s most powerful democracies with a briefing from his staff on the latest fits and starts in talks over how to raise the federal debt limit.

The president also squeezed in meetings aimed at challenging China’s buildout across the Indo-Pacific. The Quad members originally had planned to meet in Sydney next week, but got together instead on the sidelines of the G7 so Biden could return to Washington earlier on Sunday in hopes of finalizing a deal to increase the U.S. borrowing limit before the government runs out of cash to pay its bills.

Biden said he felt there was headway in the talks with GOP lawmakers.

“The first meetings weren’t all that progressive, the second ones were, the third one was,” he said before a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “And then, what happens is the carriers go back to the principals and say, ‘This is what we’re thinking about.’ And then people put down new claims. I still believe we’ll be able to avoid a default and we’ll get something decent done.”

In a sign of a renewed bargaining session in Washington, food was brought to the negotiating room at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday morning, only to be carted away hours later. No meeting was likely Saturday, according to a person familiar with the state of the talks who was not authorized to publicly discuss the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The shortened trip has reinforced a fundamental tension shaping Biden’s presidency: As he has worked to signal to the world that the U.S. is reclaiming the mantle of global leadership, at key moments, domestic dramas keep getting in the way.

Until Saturday, Biden had largely stayed out of the public eye at the summit, forgoing big public statements and leaving Friday’s leader dinner early. He has been spending time instead by a video monitor in a room next to his hotel suite, where aides in Washington have been keeping him apprised of the back-and-forth of debt limit talks.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged that world leaders have pressed Biden about the standoff in Washington. But press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that, while there was intense interest in how the president would resolve a domestic showdown that has geopolitical ramifications, there was no panic — at least not yet.

“It’s not a hair-on-fire type of situation,” she said.

On the margins of the summit, Biden held talks with Albanese in lieu of the now-scrapped visit to Australia. U.S. officials said the trip would be rescheduled, and Biden has invited Albanese to Washington for a state visit.

Biden apologized for skipping Australia. Albanese said he understood the circumstances.

“I would have done exactly the same thing,” he told Biden, adding, “I’m very much looking forward to the state visit.”

The leaders signed a compact pledging to deepen their partnership on developing the raw materials used in clean energy technologies — as they each seek to move supply away from reliance on China. They also issued a joint statement outlining new areas of cooperation in space, trade and defense.

G7 leaders also sat down to discuss their investments in infrastructure in less advanced economies, a key counterbalance to the loans and construction that China has been providing. Biden said the U.S. has mobilized more than $30 billion in investments to date “and we’re just getting started.”

During a full meeting in the evening with all of the Quad leaders, Biden repeated his apologies about needing to move their gathering to Japan.

The president is sending U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to fill his spot at a summit of Pacific Island nations in Papua New Guinea on Monday. That presidential stop, too, was scrapped in order to get Biden back to Washington more quickly.

Biden’s visit would have been the first by an American president to the country. Those countries are being aggressively courted by the U.S. and China as the two powers compete for influence in parts of the world where shipping lanes are vital.

In Hiroshima, Biden and other world leaders agreed on a shared framework for improving their own economic resilience — a recognition that high levels of trade with China have become more of a risk than an opportunity for mature economies.

Sullivan said G7 leaders were acknowledging that “we do seek to cooperate with China on matters of mutual interest. And also that we will work to address our significant concerns that we have with China in a range of areas.” He repeated a phrase often used by G7 leaders that the group is looking to “de-risk, not decouple from China.”

Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a dinner Saturday for G7 leaders and other officials who participated in the summit.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.