Russia and China silence speaks volumes as leaders congratulate Biden

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping stay silent while Iran waits to see how US will compensate for Trump sanctions

Most world leaders rushed to congratulate Joe Biden on his election, but Russia and China, two likely losers from the defeat of Donald Trump, remained silent, perhaps waiting for the outgoing president to concede defeat.

The president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, is thought to be the first to have congratulated Biden, tweeting his welcome within 24 minutes of the US networks declaring Biden victorious. By contrast, Vladimir Putin, accused of collusion in Trump’s 2016 victory, and Xi Jinping kept their counsel.

Iran, suffering from Trump-inspired sanctions and now recording nearly 500 Covid-related deaths daily, celebrated Trump’s demise and said the US should now compensate Iran for its mistakes.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, due to leave office next summer, said he will wait to see what Biden does before deciding if there is any difference between Trump and his successor.

Rouhani said: “Trump’s damaging policy has been opposed by the American people. The next US administration should use the opportunity to make up for past mistakes.”

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said Washington’s deeds not words will matter most. On Saturday the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, mocked the US elections, saying it was “an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy”, which has shown the “definite political, civil, and moral decline of the US regime”.

Tensions also spilled out from Turkey, with figures close to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warning Biden not to support Syrian Kurds or challenge Turkey’s wider ambitions in the Middle East.

The Turkish vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said Trump’s defeat would not change relations between the old allies. “The channels of communication will work as before, but of course there will be a transition period,” he said, adding Ankara would closely monitor Biden’s foreign policy approach.

Biden and Turkey are likely to clash over US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG – seen as a cornerstone in the fight against Islamic State by the Democrats, but by the Turks as a branch of the PKK Turkish Kurd terrorist group. Trump’s haphazard diplomacy has seen US influence across the Middle East decline with Russia and Turkey ever more willing to fill the vacuum.

No immediate statement came from the Saudi royal court, which is heavily dependent on US defence hardware to protect itself. The left in the Democratic party wants “an end to forever wars”, especially a withdrawal of US support for the Saudi war in Yemen. The Saudis also want to end the disastrous intervention so long as it does not leave Yemen under complete control of Houthi rebels.

Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, sent Biden formal congratulations without naming him president-elect, but Israel will want reassurances about the US maintaining pressure on Iran and its continued support for the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab states.

In Asia, most countries are looking for a continued tough line on China and also more detail on the balance between cooperation and confrontation with the world’s rising super power.

Angela Merkel said the “transatlantic friendship is irreplaceable if we are to meet the great challenges of this time”, while Macron said Europe and the US “have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!”

The European council president, Charles Michel, listed “Covid-19, multilateralism, climate change and international trade” as areas of future cooperation, while the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, spoke of a “great day for US and Europe”, and of the need to “rebuild our partnership”.

Biden’s key foreign policy priorities, apart from making appointments to the state department subject to congressional approval, are likely to be an offer to cooperate in the fight against coronavirus, an immediate commitment to rejoin the UN Paris climate agreement and, more broadly, to promise a change in tone toward traditional US allies. An early visit to Brussels either to meet EU or Nato leaders would symbolise this approach.

Despite Biden’s adviser Tony Blinken talking last month of ending the “artificial trade war” with the EU, the EU’s special foreign policy adviser, Nathalie Tocci, said she anticipated that protectionism is here to stay. “Election results show that Trumpism is alive and kicking and it is something that he [Biden] cannot ignore,” she said.

The Biden team will also have to decide whether it is worth promising to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal that Trump deserted in 2016. Many Iran specialists are urging Biden to go for a quick win and lift sanctions in return for an Iranian commitment to abide by its commitments in the accord. Debate within Iran is shaped by presidential elections in June, with some saying an olive branch from Biden will help the cause of reformists in its elections.

Iran’s leaders have so far ruled out any wider talks aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear activity, halting its ballistic missile programme, and limiting the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

Biden will also need to balance the time he devotes to foreign policy with the domestic demand to lower the Covid-19 infection rate, and keep the economy afloat. His degree of foreign policy manoeuvre will depend on whether in January the Democrats can wrest control of the Senate in two runoffs in Georgia.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic Editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
2016 was the end of the world as we know it. So what's next?
Trump and Brexit challenged fundamental beliefs, while the Syrian war left many in despair. And there’s more to come in 2017

Simon Tisdall

25, Dec, 2016 @6:00 PM

Article image
Obama v Romney: around the world in 90 minutes
The third presidential debate made it clear: from Israeli-Palestinian affairs to the eurozone crisis, foreign politics will have precious little part to play in this US election

Harriet Sherwood, Tania Branigan, David Smith, Jon Boone, Miriam Elder, Ian Traynor, Angelique Chrisafis, Jonathan Watts and Kate Hodal

23, Oct, 2012 @2:01 PM

Article image
Russia and Iran delight in UK's rejection of EU
‘There won’t be anyone to so zealously defend sanctions against us,’ says Moscow mayor as Putin allies greet Brexit with glee

Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour

24, Jun, 2016 @12:57 PM

Article image
What will happen in 2016?
Space explorers, genetic scientists, US voters, terrorists and hackers look set to dominate our world next year – but don’t rule out the odd pleasant surprise

Alex Hern, Jon Henley, Dan Roberts in Washington, Tom Phillips in Beijing, Shaun Walker in Moscow, Julian Borger, Ian Sample, Owen Gibson, Helena Smith in Athens and Mark Rice-Oxley

31, Dec, 2015 @3:04 AM

Article image
China-Russia diplomatic double act exposes Trump's crudeness
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin vow to work together on peaceful solution to North Korea crisis – in sharp contrast to US president’s sabre-rattling

Simon Tisdall

04, Jul, 2017 @12:57 PM

Article image
UK and other powers to hold crunch talks with Iran over nuclear deal
Talks in Vienna follow decision by Iran to hold back on threat to breach enriched uranium limit

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

27, Jun, 2019 @6:43 PM

Article image
John Kerry statement on Syria polarises world leaders
Iran and Russia stand alongside Bashar al-Assad's regime while the UK, France and Australia follow Washington's lead

Paul Lewis in Washington, Martin Chulov in Beirut, Julian Borger, Nicholas Watt and agencies

27, Aug, 2013 @1:40 PM

Article image
US bombing of Syria: global reaction exposes divisions over civil war
Russia says US action is an aggression that violates international law while Israel claims Trump has sent a strong, clear message

Damien Gayle, Jamie Grierson and agencies

07, Apr, 2017 @12:02 PM

Article image
Obama, Putin, Rouhani, Xi and Hollande to address UN on same day
Lineup for opening morning of general assembly marking 70th anniversary of United Nations presents possibility of rhetorical fireworks in New York

Julian Borger Diplomatic editor

29, Jul, 2015 @6:09 PM

Article image
G20 summit could mark end of the US as global leader, but what's next?
Unstable quartet of Trump, Putin, Xi and Merkel faces task of tackling crises that couldn’t have come at a worse time

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

06, Jul, 2017 @9:43 AM