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Biden To Speak To National Security And Military Leaders At Munich Conference

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tomorrow, President Biden will announce a total of $4 billion in funding for COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries. That's part of what he'll talk about with G7 leaders at a special meeting on how to end the pandemic. Later, Biden will make another move aimed at an audience well beyond U.S. borders - he'll speak to the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of the world's top national security and military leaders. He's looking to reassure allies that the go-it-alone days of the Trump administration are over. Here's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Twelve years ago, then-Vice President Joe Biden flew to Germany. It was the new Obama administration's first foreign trip. Biden was there to send a very important message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration, an administration that's determined to set a new tone not only in Washington but in America's relations around the world.

ORDOÑEZ: He was turning the page on the George W. Bush administration and inviting traditional allies in Europe to work together on challenges like arms control in Afghanistan and climate change. Tomorrow, President Biden will return to that familiar place, though virtually, and turning the page on the Trump years.

HEATHER CONLEY: So the similarities and the themes are very striking.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Heather Conley, who was a senior official for European issues in the Bush State Department.

CONLEY: To know that we're going back to those same themes over and over again, it has that feeling, which - particularly during the pandemic, of "Groundhog Day," the movie. We're waking up and repeating those same sentences, those same challenges.

ORDOÑEZ: Take his words in 2009 about launching a new green revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: We are prepared to once again begin to lead by example. America will act aggressively against climate change and in pursuit of energy security with like-minded nations.

ORDOÑEZ: Back then, he was looking for common ground with Russia, starting a diplomatic reset.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide. And they coincide in many places.

ORDOÑEZ: Since then, Moscow interfered in U.S. elections and places like Ukraine and Syria. So his message on Russia this time may have a harder edge.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I would say there are similarities and there are differences.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Charles Kupchan, who was a senior adviser in the Obama administration. In 2009, Biden was soothing strained relations after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This time, he has a bigger rift to heal.

KUPCHAN: What is new here is that Americans and Europeans are still in shock about the illiberalism and the populism and the nativism that have infected political life on both sides of the Atlantic.

ORDOÑEZ: Normally, a big speech at the Munich Conference seeps into the private conversations that top officials have afterward, when they're huddling in nooks and crannies of the plush German hotel. But this time it's happening online, so the buzz won't be the same, like the buzz two years ago, when Biden made his last speech in Munich as a private citizen. He told allies, basically, to wait Trump out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And I promise you - I promise you - that, as my mother would say, this too shall pass. We will be back. We will be back. Don't have any doubt about that.

(APPLAUSE)

ORDOÑEZ: Now Biden is back with a similar message, but the backdrop of uncertainty about the future is far from that.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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