• The Biden administration plans to roll out its foreign policy goals formally this week. James M. Linsday, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and a leading expert on U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, will share his perspectives on America’s role in the world, and challenges and opportunities for U.S. foreign policy under the Biden administration


MODERATOR:  Okay, good morning, everyone.  I’m Cheryl Neely.  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s Zoom briefing on “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Biden Administration.”  All journalists’ microphones are muted.  Please keep your microphone muted until you are called on to ask a question.  If you have technical problems during the briefing, you can use the chat feature and the meeting host or one of my colleagues will try to assist you.  If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, everyone please try to click the link again to rejoin.  Ground rules are that this briefing is on the record.  Also, non-governmental guests who are invited to brief FPC members do so in their own personal or organizational capacity, and their views do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government.   

So now I will introduce our briefer.  Mr. James M. Lindsay is senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations.  There, he oversees the work of more than 70 fellows in the council’s think tank, which is called the David Rockefeller Studies Program.  He is a leading authority on American foreign policy making process and on the domestic politics of American foreign policy.  Previously, Jim was the director of the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin; was also the deputy director and senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution; was professor of political science at the University of Iowa; and he served on the staff of the National Security Council.  Mr. Lindsay has written books on various aspects of American foreign policy and international relations.  He holds a degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan and a masters of philosophy, a doctorate from Yale University.  Jim will start with an opening statement, and then I will open it up to question and answers.  Go ahead, please, Jim. 

MR LINDSAY:  Thank you very much, Cheryl, for that introduction, and welcome, everybody, to our conversation today.  I very much look forward to it.  Cheryl has asked me to make some opening remarks.  Before I do that, perhaps I should tell you a little bit about the Council on Foreign Relations.  It is a membership organization at its heart.  We’re also publisher.  We produce Foreign Affairs magazine, the world’s leading magazine on global issues.  We have a think tank, the David Rockefeller Studies Program, that I oversee.  We’re also in the educational publication business, creating materials for colleges and universities.  And generally speaking, we’re in the business of trying to enrich the public debate over foreign policy here in the United States.  I should note that the council is nonpartisan and independent.  The council is not associated or affiliated with any political parties, nor does the council take funds from the U.S. Government, or from any government, for that matter.  I should also note that the opinions I express and the views I express today are my own.  I do not speak for the council, which takes no positions on matters of policy. 

Now, as Cheryl noted, I oversee the work of the more than six dozen fellows in the David Rockefeller Studies Program, and if you would like to talk to them or get more information from them, I would encourage you to contact the council’s communications team.  You can reach them at the memorable email address  Again, that is  One last bit of housekeeping business, and that is I would encourage all of you to visit our website,, for more information about American foreign policy. 

Now, with that housekeeping out of the way, let me make five quick, substantive points, and then we can have a broader conversation.  I was tasked to talk about Joe Biden’s foreign policy, and the first point I would make to you and stress to you is that for Joe Biden, it is domestic policy, not foreign policy, that is job number one.  Joe Biden was elected because Americans want him to begin fixing the country’s many domestic problems.  Topping that list, quite obviously, is getting the pandemic under control.  This is not to say that President Biden won’t address foreign policy – he will.  Presidents can do domestic policy and foreign policy at the same time.  What it is to suggest is that the emphasis for the Biden administration, particularly in its early months, is going to be making progress in getting America’s own domestic house in order.  Joe Biden understands if he wants to have a successful presidency, have a successful foreign policy, it is important to get things right on the domestic front.  And indeed, in yesterday’s speech at the State Department, President Biden made exactly that point, that the United States needs to show to the rest of the world that the American system still works. 

A second point I would make is that Joe Biden’s foreign policy style is going to be completely different from Donald Trump’s.  You will no longer have foreign policy being made by tweets at 3:00 a.m. in the morning.  We won’t see the President pursuing one policy while the rest of his administration appears to be pursuing another policy, something we saw quite frequently in the Trump administration, particularly when it came to policy toward Russia.  I also don’t think you will be seeing senior officials in a Biden administration publicly disagreeing with each other over what the Biden the administration’s policy is – again, something you saw quite frequently during the Trump years, perhaps most notably last fall where the national security advisor and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly squabbled over what U.S. policy was on a withdrawal or reduction of troops in Afghanistan.   

I will say more generally about the Biden foreign policy team that it is composed of seasoned, experienced Washington policy hands, people who have been in government before.  And I expect it is going to be an administration that puts an emphasis on having an orderly and methodical approach to handling foreign policy issues.  I think this is an administration that is not going to be inclined to sort of try things and then figure out what the consequences may be.  I think you’re going to get a more thorough, deliberative approach to foreign policy. 

Third point I would make is that the idea guiding Joe Biden’s foreign policy, the basic intuition guiding his foreign policy, will be opposite that of Donald Trump.  As you all know, Donald Trump’s mantra was “America first.”  That was a policy that often meant America alone.  If you go back and look at the things that Donald Trump said on the campaign trail back in 2016 and continuing into his presidency, he generally regarded the tradition of American leadership as having cost the United States too much and had provided too few in the way of benefits.  He was typically more critical of America’s friends, partners, and allies than he was America’s adversaries.   

I think Joe Biden comes to office with the opposite mindset.  Biden both believes his bones the importance of American leadership, sees it as a way of advancing American interests and American values, and that the United States is stronger, it’s more capable, it’s more likely to accomplish his goals when it works with others.  And I think President Biden made that point explicitly in his speech yesterday at the State Department.  He made the point that he intends to repair what are obviously frayed relations with many friends, partners, and allies.  Again, he thinks American leadership is good.  He is very fond, as I think you all know, of the phrase that “America is back.” 

Fourth point I would make about Joe Biden’s foreign policy is that some of his policies are going to be very different from the ones that Donald Trump pursued.  We’ve already seen some evidence of that.  In his first days of coming to office, Joe Biden had the United States rejoin the Paris agreement.  Obviously Donald Trump in 2018 initiated process for the United States to withdraw from Paris.  President Biden has reversed the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization.  As you note from the speech that President Biden gave yesterday, he is ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.  And I think most tellingly, a Biden presidency is going to be more vocal in criticizing dictators and human rights abusers.  Again, going back to yesterday’s speech, President Biden singled out the coup in Myanmar, arguing that it should not stand, that friends of democracy must rally to the cause.  Likewise, President Biden in yesterday’s speech criticized Russia’s handling of the arrest and imprisonment of Aleksey Navalny, so certainly on human rights issues you are going to see a more forward-leaning posture from the Biden presidency than you saw in the Donald Trump presidency. 

My fifth and final point would be that while many Biden policies will be different than Trump policies, in some areas you’re going to see more continuity than change.  The rhetoric may be different in some areas, but policies are going to look remarkably similar.  I think the two most obvious points here would be the tough line toward China and Russia, and I would note the first countries that President Biden mentioned in his speech yesterday were China and Russia.  And he in essence said the United States was going to stand up to both countries.  In that sense, President Biden accepts the strategic vision that was laid out in the Trump administration and its 2017 National Security Strategy, that we have returned to an era of great power competition.   

This is not to say that Biden is seeking to contain China or Russia.  It’s not clear that that’s feasible or possible as a policy.  But rather what the Biden administration is seeking to do is to nudge and deter Beijing and Russia in areas where it thinks their policies upend or damage Western values and interests.  And I will note that in singling out that President Biden understands he’s in a competition with China and with Russia, he also held out the hand of potential cooperation.  Indeed, one of the things the President noted yesterday in his speech was that the United States and Russia, despite their differences on lots of other issues, had nonetheless come together in agreement to extend the New START treaty, which was set to expire today, for another five years. 

So Cheryl, I think we’ll do that as a table setter, and we can go from here, however you’d like to go. 

MODERATOR:  Wonderful, thank you so much.  So now I will open it up to the question and answer session.  To ask a question, I prefer that you click on the “raise hand” button at the bottom of the participant list, and I will call on you.  Make sure that your name, outlet, and country show in the participant list.  Also, when you ask a question, please state your name, outlet, and country.  If you cannot use the “raise hand” feature, you may also use the chat function.  I cannot unmute you, so when I call on you, please unmute yourself to ask your question. 

So with that, let me see who we have.  First we have Rafael Mathus from La Nacion, and I can’t see the country, but please introduce yourself, Rafael.  Rafael, you’ll have to unmute yourself.  You’re unmuted now. 

(No response.) 

MODERATOR:  Okay, we’ll come to back to Rafael.  I think he’s having some issues. 

QUESTION:  Can you hear me now? 

MODERATOR:  Yes, we can now. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Rafael Mathus from La Nacion from Argentina.  Thank you very much for organizing this.  My question has to do with Latin America, which is always a little bit forgotten when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.  What do you think the changes in the approach from the Biden administration would be towards policy for Latin America?  And who do you think might be the best partner in the region for this government?  Thank you. 

MR LINDSAY:  Thank you, Rafael.  That’s a great set of questions.  Let me begin where you ended, then we’ll work our way back.  I think Joe Biden faces a challenge in looking at Latin America that there aren’t obvious partners for him to work with.  Typically we sort of think about U.S. policy toward Latin America, it’s built around bilateral relations, and you begin to think of the most important countries in the region.  You think about Mexico, you think about Brazil, you think about Argentina, Colombia.  And as the Biden team looks around, it’s not clear it has good partners in any of those countries.   

President Lopez Obrador in Mexico seems to be taking Mexico in a more closed direction than his predecessors had.  In an odd way, Lopez Obrador had a very good relationship with Donald Trump, in large part because the Trump administration paid little attention to what the Lopez Obrador administration was doing domestically.  I think the Biden administration is likely more interested in what’s happening with Mexico’s democracy, is more inclined to encourage integration economically with Mexico, and obviously you have the standard array of issues that have always bedeviled U.S.-Mexican relations. 

If you go down to South America, look at Brazil, the president of Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro, doesn’t seem to be an obvious potential candidate for partnership with President Biden.  Clearly President Bolsonaro had much closer relationship with President Trump.  You look elsewhere, I’m not sure, given Argentina’s internal problems, that it is ready or has the capacity to play a major role in the region. 

I would say, to step back where you began your question, it is true that Latin America often gets neglected in American foreign policy.  I think part of the hope of the Biden team coming into office is to rectify that a bit.  President Biden or candidate Biden talked a lot about a very ambitious plan for investing, especially in Central America, because obviously this takes us into the question of immigration flows coming into the United States.  He was talking about investments on the order of $4 billion. 

The challenge, however, now is whether he is going to be able to persuade Congress to back up and fund that vision, and more immediately, what kind of challenges immigration will pose to him at home politically.  I think as you know, Rafael, immigration was a major issue in the Trump years – record numbers of people trying to enter the United States.  We can see right now that the Trump administration with its draconian policies is giving way to the Biden administration, that many people are expecting that the United States will be more welcoming, which means more people coming to the borders.  But it’s not at all clear that the Biden administration will be able to process or accept all of the people who are going to come, and so that’s a political issue that is likely to percolate up here in the United States where, as you know again, immigration and the question of accepting refugees has become politically volatile. 

I will note, again, President Biden early in his administration, signaling a difference with the Trump team, has issued executive orders that would increase the number of people allowed into the United States under refugee provisions in U.S. law, taking them back to the numbers we saw before President Trump became president. 

MODERATOR:  Oh, I’m muted.  Okay, great.  While we’re on the Western Hemisphere, we had a question submitted previously from The Canadian Press, and they wanted to know about the Keystone pipeline decision, about our relationship with Canada given the Keystone pipeline decision, and whether you think any other pipelines would be stopped or halted. 

MR LINDSAY:  It’s an excellent question.  Let’s begin by noting that the Biden administration within the first days of coming to office halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which essentially runs from the tar sands of Canada down to the Gulf Coast.  It has been a project that is controversial in the United States for several reasons, mostly because for people who are concerned about climate change, it would facilitate the use of carbon-based fuels at a time when we need to use less of them; also considerable issues about pipelines crossing the reservations of Native Americans, damaging religious sites there, imperiling water supplies, and what have you.  Candidate Biden had campaigned saying he was going to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline and he has done so, and again, your question is what might follow. 

There are actually I guess three major pipelines under construction.  They differ from the Keystone XL pipeline in a significant way – at least the two coming from Canada – in that there the issue is about replacing existing pipelines, thereby expanding capacity.  And the Biden administration at this point has not tipped what it intends to do, and I will note that in this case, this one called the Enbridge Line 3, which is, again, a replacement which would run from I think Alberta through North Dakota, Minnesota, and a little bit of Wisconsin.  Now, it’s a replacement pipeline, and the parts in North Dakota and Wisconsin have already been completed, right.  Now you’re looking at the segment in Minnesota.  The governor of Minnesota supports the pipeline replacement, as do many labor unions, several of which endorsed Joe Biden for president.   

And so this is a case in which you have elements of the Biden coalition or constituency, in essence, at odds: environmentalists hoping he will close it down, arguing that we don’t want to become more reliant on carbon or fossil fuels; and having unions arguing this is a source of good jobs, and we’re replacing an older pipeline and so shouldn’t raise as many problems.  And again, laying over all of this is that a number of important legal issues are invoked, and these things are being litigated.  As best I can tell, the Biden team has not decided what it intends to do. 

Let me close on one thing, and it gets really to the core of Biden’s notion of wanting to work with other countries, and again, that is his overarching philosophy.  The challenge for a Biden administration is the reality that even when you want to work with close partners, there are going to be issues over which you disagree.  And many Canadians were deeply upset that the Keystone XL pipeline was shut down, and it was shut down so abruptly without consultation with Ottawa.  I know it put Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau in a bit of a spot.   

And again, this is the challenge of trying to make the Biden foreign policy philosophy work.  You want to work with others; that means to some extent you have to acknowledge their interests, but at times your own interests may take you in a different direction, which is why it’s easier to say, hey, let’s get back together and cooperate.  It gets a little bit harder because there are a lot of issues on which reasonable people can disagree, and do. 

MODERATOR:  Great.  And I just want to say that if you’re on the Zoom and you submitted a question in advance, feel free to raise your hand so that you can ask your question.  Next we’ll go to Katerina Sokou from Greece.  Katerina, please unmute yourself and introduce yourself. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, yes.  I’m Katerina Sokou.  As mentioned, I’m from Greece.  I work for Kathimerini Greek Daily and SKAI TV.  I would like – if I may, I have a question on the Eastern Mediterranean, but on the just-mentioned point of domestic policy and how it may affect – take the Biden administration in a different direction, I was wondering how that might work with relations with the closest European allies, like Germany, and how that might play out there. 

And on my more regional kind of interest question, on the Eastern Mediterranean, I was wondering if you think that the Biden administration will continue to guide its policy in the area based on great power competition, and whether they have been supporting, for example, in the past few years trilateral partnership between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.   

And I was wondering how you think that the focus of the Biden administration on democratic rights and human rights might further deteriorate relations with Turkey and where you see Turkey standing in this mix in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Thank you so much. 

MR LINDSAY:  Well, Katerina, you put an awful lot on the table.  I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get to all of it, or to get to all of it adequately.  But let me sort of break it down into sort of a – what I take to be three chunks.  One is the broader question of working with major partners in Europe.  And you mentioned Germany.  And again, Germany is an example, just like U.S. relations with Canada, where the United States has a long tradition of working with Germany.  Germany is a close ally; it is an ally member of NATO.  But there are obviously issues on which the Biden administration is going to disagree with the government of Chancellor Merkel or whichever government will succeed her following the German elections later this year.  And obviously, one of the big issues there has to do with Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that the chancellor has supported.  So we’ll see how well that works out.   

And obviously, for President Biden, it’s one thing to campaign.  Campaigning is about promises.  It’s another thing to govern.  Governing is about choosing.  And you have to choose what your priorities are, because if everything is a priority, nothing is.  You have to make choices about what you’re willing to give up to get things that you want.  And I think if you look at the Biden administration, we’re not going to see a lot of big, bold foreign policy initiatives in the first several weeks or first several months, in good part because they want time to sort of think through what it is they want to do and what the tradeoffs are.  And that willingness to sort of take time to think things through rather than to fire from the hip is going to be driven by the – excuse me – prosaic reality in the United States that it will be months before the Biden administration is fully staffed up. 

We are now two weeks and a day into the Biden presidency, and only half of his cabinet has been approved.  We don’t have confirmed deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, under secretaries and the like.  So that adds to the desire to sort of take things slowly. 

Looking at the Eastern Mediterranean, it’s obviously an issue of importance.  I think the Biden administration will be inclined to want to encourage countries it is close to to develop their own relations.  But that’s also tied to the third portion of your question, which is:  In what direction is Turkey going?  You know better than I do, Katerina, how delicate things have been in the Eastern Mediterranean over the last six months or so in particular because of competing claims to potentially significant oil and gas deposits, and the question of conflicting economic zones of the various countries.   

And I think one of the big questions going forward is going to be sort of:  Where is Turkey going?  I think if you were to ask the Biden people, they value America’s relations with Turkey.  Turkey is a formal ally, member of NATO.  They would hope to improve relations with Ankara, but clearly Ankara the last four or five years under President Erdogan has gone in a different direction.  You can obviously point to a number of issues.  The one that probably stands out is the Turkish purchase of advanced Russian missilery, which has caused great concern for the Defense Department.   

So U.S.-Turkish relations are going to be – how should I put it – delicate.  And I know that the Biden team would like to reinvigorate relations with Turkey, but in all things it’s not just what the U.S. wants, it’s what other countries want as well.  And I expect to see some significantly delicate diplomacy on that score. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Next we’ll go to Soyoung Kim with – I believe that’s Radio Free Asia.  Please unmute yourself — 

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi, yeah, thank you. 

MODERATOR:  — and introduce yourself. 

QUESTION:  Hi, this is Soyoung from Radio Free Asia, based in the U.S.  About North Korea, Secretary Blinken said he’s going to fully review North Korea policy.  But like has been pointed out a little bit in your opening remarks, in reality it looks like there are so many other priorities – not only foreign policy-wise, but also domestic issues to deal with.  So when do you expect the Biden administration can actually (inaudible) more specific policy or take any actions towards North Korea?  And also, do you think the Biden administration will include human rights issues in negotiation with North Korea once it happens?  Thank you. 

MR LINDSAY:  Well, excellent set of questions, Soyoung.  Let me step back and say that North Korea is a foreign policy problem that has bedeviled successive American presidents.  North Korea as a foreign policy challenge existed before Donald Trump became president.  And again, if you look at the successive administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, they all broke their lances trying to find a way to denuclearize North Korea.   

So I guess my opening observation is that North Korea is a longstanding and very difficult problem.  Now, Donald Trump tried something very different.  He tried personal diplomacy; as you know, high-level summit diplomacy.  It didn’t yield the kind of breakthroughs that Donald Trump suggested they would.  If there’s been one trend over the last 20 years, it has been for North Korea to improve the quality and extent of its nuclear arsenal.  And we have to regard North Korea today as a nuclear arms state. 

The options for the Biden administration are fairly well known.  Again, when you’ve been working an issue for more than two decades, it’s pretty clear what your options are.  Presumably the Biden administration, when it completes its strategic review, will look to such things as increasing pressure from other countries on North Korea to persuade it to freeze or to begin to reduce its nuclear arsenal.  That’s been tried before, has not produced certainly complete results.  And I will note the countries most positioned, best positioned to pressure North Korea will be a country like China, with which the Biden administration is going to be at odds on lots of other issues.  And that, of course, gets you into the heart of diplomacy.  When you want something from somebody, you generally have to offer them something to make it worth their while.   

So we will see this all play out.  The wild card in all of this, Soyoung, is:  What does North Korea do?  And again, we’ve sort of talked – or I have talked about the Biden administration’s desire to take its time to sort of review all of its policies, understand what the Trump administration did, and then to formulate a policy going forward.  But that assumes the rest of the world is going to sit waiting for these reviews to conclude.  And obviously, one potential you have in dealing with North Korea is that North Korea will do something – test a nuclear weapon, test an intercontinental ballistic missile – that will suddenly move up the need on the part of the Biden administration to say or do something.   

And indeed, again, the hardest challenge for any new administration – and this is true not just for Biden, it was true for Trump and Obama and Bush and Clinton and Bush and Reagan – is that it takes you a while to get your administration fully staffed up.  Takes a while to sort of get everybody on your team on the same page.  But events don’t necessarily wait until you’re ready, and you can be tested very early in very challenging ways.   

And obviously, there are flashpoints around the globe today where we could suddenly go from things being relatively calm to relatively tense, and administrations generally don’t get to decide when crises erupt. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  I will combine two questions.  We had a question submitted in advance from Hardi Kamali from NRT in Iraq.  And we have a question in the chat feature that’s similar from Roj Zalla with Rudaw TV, which is in Iraq in the Kurdistan – in the Kurdistan region.   

And they would both like to know what you think the Biden administration foreign policy will be vis-a-vis the Kurds, including the relationship with Syria and with Turkey in that regard. 

MR LINDSAY:  Well, that’s a very big question.  It’s sort of hard to answer succinctly without leaving a lot out, so I apologize. 

I would say in the main, policy from the Biden administration is likely to look in this area a lot like policy in the Trump administration.  Candidate Biden certainly made clear over the course of the campaign that he was not eager to deepen America’s role in the Middle East.  I’ll note specifically on the issue of Afghanistan, where the Trump administration and certainly President Trump talked about reducing the overall U.S. footprint that Candidate Biden said pretty much the same thing. 

So that’s sort of the opening, I think, preference not to become more deeply involved.  Again, you have the challenge, of course, that events can change the choices that you face.  I would imagine that the United States would continue to provide support for the Kurds.  But I wouldn’t expect a Biden administration, barring events, to voluntarily increase the size of America’s commitment in the countries that you mentioned. 

Now, to just sort of take it back to where I began, for Joe Biden, again, domestic policy is job one.  It’s job one not because Americans have turned inward and don’t understand the importance of the rest of the world.  It’s job one because Americans say we have a lot of problems here at home we really have to begin to get under control.  If you look at public opinion polls of Americans, what you learn is that large numbers of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.  Large numbers of Americans believe that their children will be inheriting a less prosperous country than the one they grew up in, and that’s a real danger signal for any democracy. 

And I think Joe Biden is trying – we’ll see if he can succeed – to begin to address, again, the myriad of domestic challenges and is not looking to increase or become more invested in military operations, particularly in the Middle East.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And just a quick follow-up on that.  We have a question from – we have several questions I still want to get to, so just very quickly, Takashi Oshima from Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun put a question in the chat: “And could you explain what Biden means by a foreign policy for the middle class?” 

MR LINDSAY:  I think that is a slogan that remains to be fleshed out, and it’s not clear what that entails.  So if you’re left scratching your head, you’re not alone. 

I think on one level, what the Biden team is trying to do with that phrase is to signal to Americans that yes, we understand we have problems at home we have to address and we’re not forgetting them.  And I think the argument is that when we do foreign policy, what we’re going to do is keeping the interests of Americans in mind, and we’re going to try to address, advance their interests. 

So in some sense, it’s political framing to reassure people that you haven’t taken your eye off the ball.  To the extent it becomes substantive, what it refers to – what it really addresses is concerns among many Democrats, certainly progressive Democrats, that U.S. trade policy has been misguided and has not worked for the American public, and that when Joe Biden tackles trade policy he’s going to fashion trade policy that does a better job working for the American public, for the American middle class. 

Now the challenge here is you can get very robust arguments over what exactly would be a trade policy that works for the middle class, and the great fear I think in people who favor a more traditional foreign policy is that this slogan gets hijacked and becomes another name for protectionism, which history has shown generally will not serve a country’s interests over the long term.  So I think this is something to be fleshed out.  And here again, this is an area in which, when you talk about trade, that the Biden administration is essentially putting everything on hold.   

Again, let’s go back.  Donald Trump comes in, Donald Trump is skeptical of the international trading system, he doesn’t like America’s big deficits, he treats them like a score at a baseball game; we have a deficit, so we’re losing.  And he says, I’m going to impose tariffs to change things because “trade wars are good and easy to win.”  The tariffs aren’t just on countries we have tense relationships with like China, but also on our closest friends and allies: Canada, Europe, Mexico.   

And Biden has been elected, but he has not immediately appealed those tariffs.  In essence, all of tariff policy, trade policy, is now undergoing review, and we’ll see at the end of the day what emerges.  I think at that point, then we will have some sense of what foreign policy for the middle class really means.  (Inaudible.) 


MR LINDSAY:  An idea in development, I guess. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, Jim.  I’d like to get to at least three other regions if I can.  I’ll take a question, very quickly, please, from Kanwal Abidi from the AZB daily in Pakistan.  Kanwal, unmute yourself, please.  You’re unmuted. 

QUESTION:  (No response.) 

MODERATOR:  Oh, you’re unmuted, but we can’t hear you.  There must be something wrong with your microphone.  She submitted a question yesterday I’ll ask quickly.  She wanted to know, on Pakistan, in seeking justice for Daniel Pearl, what is the main focal point in Pakistan and U.S. bilateral relations?  Handing over Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to be tried inside the U.S. seems to be a particular case.  And then on Kashmir – and we had another question on India, so if you’d like to speak about Pakistani, Indian, and American relationships. 

MR LINDSAY:  Obviously, the Biden administration inherits a complicated U.S. relationship with Pakistan, some of the issues being very sort of resonant here in the United States.  You mentioned the Pakistani court overturning the conviction of the gentleman who had been convicted for killing Daniel Pearl.  I think the administration will have significant concerns about human rights issues, issues about whether or not Pakistan is doing everything it can to prevent, contain, deter terrorists.  Obviously, the administration is concerned about relations between Pakistan and India.  As you know well, it’s the one place in the world in which two nuclear-armed countries abut one another and have, how shall we say, tense relations. 

I think there’s also concern in a Biden presidency about the nature of the evolution of Pakistan’s relations with China.  So I think it’s sort of hard to unpack all of that.  Again, for the Biden administration, this is going to be one set of issues embedded in a much larger array of challenges that they face.  And to some extent, you’re going to see events sort of moving things up or down the priority list.   

I think, generally speaking, what the Biden administration would hope is to find a way to improve relations with Pakistan.  Again, the United States has a longstanding relationship with Islamabad, and obviously lots of differences and grievances on both sides.  But I think the Biden administration would like to do what it can to make that relationship more productive. 

MODERATOR:  Great.  I’m going to ask Demna Devdariani – I hope I said your last name correctly, Demna – from TELEIMEDI, Georgia to unmute before he asks his question.  I think that we have a similar question from Dmytro Anopchenko from Inter TV Ukraine, who submitted his question in advance.  He would like to know about the policy on Ukraine, and I believe that Demna will be asking about Georgia. 

QUESTION:  Good morning. 

MODERATOR:  Good morning, Demna. 

QUESTION:  Well, thank you very much, and the FPC team so much for organizing this.  Mr. Linsday, good morning.  My name is Demna.  I’m from Georgia, work for TELEIMEDI.  I’m a D.C.-based journalist.  I would like to ask a question about Georgia.  And I’m sure you know the relations that United States and Georgia have.  It’s long lasting; it’s very steadfast, a partnership.  So Georgia was a little bit relinquished during the Trump era, during the four years.  I would like to know your projection.  Looking at the upcoming four years, how do you think how much Biden administration will be engaged in South Caucasus in general and particularly with Georgia, which 20 percent of Georgian territory is occupied by Russia.  So how do you see that unfolding in the nearest future?  Thank you. 

MR LINDSAY:  It is an excellent question.  I don’t know that I’m the best person to answer it in good part because this is not an issue as best I can tell that candidate Biden spoke about on the campaign trail.  And again, obviously, one of the challenges one faces as a candidate and as president is that there are lots and lots of foreign policy issues and not all of them get commented on. 

I think that the general world view Joe Biden has is that he will want to stand up to and stand up for America’s longstanding relation with Georgia.  Obviously, the ability of the United States to change the facts on the ground are extremely limited.  And so I expect that – again, barring events, and events can scramble everything, the Biden team will continue to talk about the importance of U.S. relations with Georgia, the importance of Georgia, to urge peace, to urge the Russians to withdraw.  However, I don’t anticipate that it will become a lead item in U.S.-Russian policy. 

MODERATOR:  Anything on Ukraine? 

MR LINDSAY:  Ukraine is – I put it in the category of difficult issues.  The ability of the United States to influence the direction of Ukraine is limited.  Again, events can really scramble the conversation.  There has been talk about Russia seizing – formally seizing eastern parts of Ukraine.  I think that changes the conversation again.  Again, events can take issues that you’re hoping you can sort of manage quietly and take them from the back rooms and put them on the front page and the front burner, and that changes both your options and your diplomatic freedom. 

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Let’s see, let me go to a different region.  We have Pearl Matibe from Open Parliament.  Pearl, please unmute yourself and introduce yourself. 

QUESTION:  Yes, good morning.  This is Pearl and I’m here in Washington, D.C.  My region is Southern Africa up to the DRC and down.  Now, many, many people, millions of people in my audience, are very concerned about Biden’s approach towards Africa that the United States for decades, president after president, Reagan on, including Obama, have not done enough.  The fear is:  Will Biden default to the Obama approach?  And if not, what more can Africa expect in engagement with these countries and – or should they continue to lean east and further their relationships like Zimbabwe has been furthering with China and particularly with Russia?  Thank you. 

MR LINDSAY:  That is an excellent question, Pearl.  And it’s a difficult one to answer because it really depends upon one’s expectations about what a Biden administration would have to do to satisfy people across Africa, and obviously, the issues vary from country to country. 

I’ll make the following observations, which is, one, I think that Africa will be higher on the diplomatic priority list for a Biden administration than it was for the Trump administration.  The second observation I would make is that a variety of aid programs the United States currently has will likely be expanded.  Will they be expanded greatly?  Probably not, just given budgetary constraints and the difficulty of enacting legislation currently in the United States.  Third, I think you’re going to see much more active U.S. diplomacy in the region.  I think one of the things that Antony Blinken in his maiden address as Secretary of State tried to make clear, and I think President Biden tried to reinforce in his comments yesterday, is that the United States intends to show up in a way that the Trump administration didn’t show up.  

Bottom line, though, is if you were to ask me to suggest, I think the Biden policy will look probably more like the Obama years than anything else. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We have time for one, possibly two more questions.  I’m going to go to China.  We have two questions, one in the chat, and I’m going to call on Zhihang Du from Caixin.  If you can unmute yourself.   

And while you do, I’m going to ask a question from Yan Zhang with Initium Media in Hong Kong.  She would like to know – sorry, I believe that’s a he:  “I have a question about U.S.-China relations.  We have many issues on the table; for example, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Uyghurs, trade negotiations, and the COVID-related travel ban.  President Biden and Xi haven’t spoken to each other yet.  And what would be the first breakthrough of Biden’s China policy?” 

And then we’ll open it up to Zhihang, who is with the Chinese media.  Zhihang, please go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi, this is Zhihang from Caixin from China, and my question is concerning Biden’s comments yesterday.  He said that China is a serious competitor, which is different from the rhetoric of Pompeo and Trump, who said that China was a threat and China needs to be verified and distrusted.  So – but on the other hand, you have mentioned that Biden is likely to maintain a tough line against China.  So where will Biden be tough on China, and how?  That’s my question.  Thank you very much. 

MR LINDSAY:  That’s an excellent question.  We could spend the next hour talking about it.  Let me just flag three areas.   

One, I think it is clear that the Biden administration is going to keep the closer ties with Taiwan and the more assertive practice of freedom of naval operations in the South China Sea.  That’s what he inherited from the Trump administration.  I don’t see it turning back. 

Number two, I expect that the Biden administration will take its time reviewing the wide variety of tariffs and other restrictions that the Trump administration placed on China.  Th so-called phase one trade deal that Donald Trump boasted about hasn’t delivered the benefits that were promised.  But beyond that, I think there is great concern in the United States – and this is bipartisan and I think it’s important to understand crossing both parties – that the United States needs to be concerned about the direction in which the Chinese economy is evolving and concerns about Chinese human rights policies.  So I would expect it would be a while before you see a number of those tariffs reduced.  And I think that on something called the entity list, that is restrictions on what technologies made in the United States can be exported, I think that entity list is likely to grow rather than shrink in terms of or compared to China. 

Third, and I think this is where the Biden administration differs from the Trump administration, is you’re going to see more full-throated Biden administration criticism and condemnation of the Chinese Government’s human rights policies, particularly with respect to the Uyghurs but not solely there.   

Now the question, of course, is that if you have a policy which on the one hand is tough toward Beijing, how do you get the concessions you’re hoping for on issues where you see there is mutual advantage?  And that’s, I think, the real challenge to the Biden team.  And again, I would take you back to Biden’s speech yesterday where he acknowledged that we are in a competition with China; that is, the days in which thinking that we engage with China, China will grow more prosperous, accept the rules of the road as defined over the last 75 years, I think that mindset is passed, and the thing now is that people not just in the United States see China as a threat to a variety of aspects of the international system over the last – built up over the last 70 years.  

One just final thing I will say on that score is that I think you’re going to see the Biden administration try to follow through on its pledge to consult and work closely with its friends and allies about forging common policies in dealing with China in areas where the Chinese, in Washington’s judgment, aren’t playing by the rules of the game.  Now, of course, that’s easier said than done because you not only have to get agreement on doing something, you have to get agreement on what’s going to be done, who is going to do it, and who is going to pick up the tab.  So that diplomacy will be very complicated.   

On the specific question of the breakthrough, a lot of it’s going to depend not just on what Joe Biden wants or Washington decides to do, but also what is it that Beijing and Xi Jinping decide to offer up.  Again, all of these diplomatic efforts – it’s not just one party, it’s the intersection of two or more parties, so we’ll have to be paying attention to what choices and decisions that China makes. 

I know there was another question, Cheryl, but I’m blanking on what it was, so I apologize. 

MODERATOR:  That’s okay, we’re almost out of time.  I was just wondering if you have time for one final question from Portugal. 

MR LINDSAY:  I love Portugal.   

MODERATOR:  Okay, I’ll call on Elena Letz from LUSA, the Portuguese news service. 


QUESTION:  Hello, I’m from the Portuguese news agency.  Thank you so much for taking my question.  Portugal is going to be the president of Council of the European Union for the first six months, and I wanted to ask how can Portugal help being in this position of the president of council or European Council?  How can it help on a transatlantic reconciliation and bring U.S. and European Union to warmer relations?   

And I know you said that there is not much time in the first weeks or months, we’re not going to see a lot of initiatives because a cabinet has to be staffed.  But do you think that six months is enough?  Are we going to see a little bit, or is it too early?  Are we going to see a little bit of change in these relations?  Thank you. 

MR LINDSAY:  Great question.  And as I say, I love Portugal, love port wine.  So two thumbs up. 

I think that we’re not going to see big, new, bold initiatives coming out of the Biden administration for a while, and I think you’re probably honestly looking at early summer timeline before you see sort of new self-generated initiatives.  Again, events can change a lot of things. 

Where I think Portugal can be important and play a role is to facilitate what we know is going to happen, which is a lot of conversation across the Atlantic about what we share in common, what we see as potentially common challenges and opportunities, and as well as to have adult conversations about those issues where we disagree. 

Again, the great part about campaigning is that you’re painting in broad brush, you’re painting visions of what you can do.  But the art of governing is getting down into the details and trying to sort of connect that vision of the world you hope it will be and the sort of particular challenges that you face.  And again, within Europe there is a great degree of diversity on a number of issues.  There’s diversity in Europe about what extent Joe Biden can deliver on what he has promised and to what extent Europe should want to accept what Joe Biden is about to offer, is trying to offer, and I think sort of the role of diplomacy and the role of Portugal in its position is to facilitate those conversations in a productive way that leads us further toward cooperation rather than into the ditch of division. 

MODERATOR:  Right.  Well, thank you so much, Jim, for being with us today.  We’ve covered Latin America, we’ve covered Canada, we’ve covered Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan, India, China.  We did not get time for a question from Tim Lester from Australia.  If anyone did not get a chance to ask your question, please email any remaining questions to and we will forward them on, or you could also email them directly to the email address that Jim gave, which is – I put in the chat feature.  I believe it was communications – with an s –  Was that correct? 

MR LINDSAY:  That is correct, Cheryl.  And I would also say you’re welcome to come to our award-winning website  Let me just say that again:  You’ll find tons of articles and videos and quizzes and other stuff all about foreign policy.  So – and again, I just want to say personally I’m sorry we didn’t get to the question from the gentleman from Australia because I also love Australia. 

MODERATOR:  Well, if you have time, we can take it really quickly. 

MR LINDSAY:  If it’s not an inconvenience to you, I’m happy to take the question.   

MODERATOR:  Okay, great.  Tim, go ahead and unmute yourself, and we’ll take this as the final question.   

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, James, and to the Foreign Press Center, to the work in getting this together.  Tim Lester, Los Angeles based for Australia’s Seven Network.   

Yesterday the President spoke about some sort of stock-take of global U.S. forces.  I’d be very interested to hear where you believe that might change the current balance of U.S. forces, understanding that I have a particular interest in forces based in Darwin, and also very keen to know whether you have any observations on how Joe Biden might pressure countries like mine to reduce carbon emissions.  Is that just going to be a “Come on guys, do more,” or might he actually institute some form of action to make high carbon emitters hurt?  Interested in your thoughts. 

MR LINDSAY:  Okay, two great questions.  Let me say on the force review my guess would be – this is just what it is, a guess – when they finish with the force review, U.S. forces will look largely as they do today.  I do think that if anything there is likely to be on the margin shifts toward more forces in East Asia.  That’s been a trend.  Let’s go back to the Obama years when we talked about the pivot or rebalance to Asia.  I think most Americans regard themselves as being overly invested in the Middle East, certainly militarily, to the detriment of the country’s broader interest.  But of course, the challenge is how do you sort of disentangle those commitments.  So I don’t think that we’re going to see something fundamental or a fundamental reorientation of U.S. forces, mostly things on the margins. 

On the question about climate change, I imagine that President Biden, certainly his special climate envoy former senator, former secretary of state, John Kerry, would love to be in a position in which they could put pressure on carbon emitters to emit less carbon.  I think the reality is they’re not going to be in a position to do that, and they’re not going to be in a position to do that because they are going to be hard-pressed to mobilize a coalition in the United States to reduce carbon emission.  As you know, most Republicans are hostile to the notion that climate change requires any significantly new regulations or changes in the lifestyle.  And I think barring that, there’s no way in which to sort of put pressure on emitters.   

And obviously, when you’re talking about emitters, the biggest two being the United States but even more so China.  What I do think you’re likely to see is efforts by the Biden administration to try to persuade Xi Jinping and the Chinese Government to abandon its robust plans as part of the Belt and Road Initiative to create – well, what are on – what’s on the books to be a couple hundred coal-fired power plants, because that would simply intensify the problems we have.  

So I think on that sense – again, this gets back to the complicated nature of the relationship between Washington and Beijing.  Washington is going to want to persuade Beijing to actually make good on its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060.  Perhaps even better than that, why don’t you do it by 2050, as we’re pledging to do?  But again, as you know, the politics in the United States of getting stuff done on climate change are pretty dicey, and as a result, I mean, the one thing you can imagine when the Secretary or Special Envoy Kerry goes around world capitals, what he’s going to hear from them is, “Physician, heal thyself.  You get your carbon emissions under control, then you can come and lecture us on what we need to do.” 

But again, I’m not an expert on Australian politics.  My sense is Australia has similar political obstacles to reining in carbon emissions because of economic interests, livelihood, jobs, and things like that.  So you have that same problem in the United States. 

MODERATOR:  Wonderful.  Well, thank you again, Jim.  We sincerely appreciate your time and your extra time for a couple of extra questions.  I’d also like to thank Anya (ph) and Jenny (ph) on your team and Anna (ph) for helping us coordinate this briefing.  And again, if you did not (inaudible) your question, then you can email it to  A transcript of the briefing and the video will be posted on our website as soon as they are both available.  If you have an urgent need for the video recording, we will have that available in about 30 minutes.  It can be emailed to you.  If you don’t have an urgent need, please wait for it to go on the website.  You can also go to the Department of Defense website DVIDS, or DVIDS, and that web link is in your invitation. 

So again, thank you so much to you and to your team at the Council on Foreign Relations, and we really appreciate you being with us today.  And that concludes our briefing.   

MR LINDSAY:  Thank you very much, Cheryl.  Let me just say if you want more information, please to go   

MODERATOR:  Wonderful, thank you.  Bye, everyone.  

U.S. Department of State

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