Fresh off a win on Saturday with a global corporate tax agreement and some progress toward restoring the nuclear accord with Iran, President Biden returned for the final day of the Group of 20 summit on Sunday facing far more difficult challenges, including pressure to take stronger action on climate change and to make concrete progress on delivering Covid vaccines to the poorest countries.
The difficult agenda facing the leaders of 20 of the wealthiest nations, their first in-person meeting since the pandemic began, illustrated a widening divide with developing countries. Those nations have argued that industrialized countries have hoarded vaccines and squandered decades of opportunities to slow the warming of the planet.
After the summit in Rome, Mr. Biden and other leaders will travel to Glasgow for a United Nations climate conference, where they will confront demands from scientific experts and many developing countries to rapidly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for heating the planet. The talks in Glasgow, known as COP26, come as the U.N. warns of a looming climate catastrophe and are shaping up as a test of whether global cooperation is even possible to address a crisis that does not recognize national borders.
A senior administration official told reporters on Saturday evening that American negotiators were pushing for concrete progress from the summit on reducing methane emissions, decarbonizing the global power sector and ending international financing for coal projects.
For Mr. Biden, who has staked his presidency on his ability to forge consensus at home and abroad, the return to in-person diplomacy presented an opportunity for good news after weeks of negative headlines.
His struggles included the battle to unify Democrats in Congress behind his huge economic and environmental spending plan, as well as trying to manage the fallout from the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He began the weekend in Rome by smoothing things over with President Emmanuel Macron of France, acknowledging that the administration’s handling of a submarine deal had been “clumsy.”
Mr. Biden faced a trickier meeting on Sunday morning with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, amid tensions over Ankara’s threats to expel ambassadors from the United States and other nations and its purchase of a Russian missile-defense system. A senior Biden administration official told reporters in Rome that the meeting would cover a range of topics, including Syria, Libya and Turkey’s desire to acquire U.S.-made F16 jets.
Despite the tensions, the two leaders were seen chatting several times at the summit on Saturday, with Mr. Biden gesturing animatedly at Mr. Erdogan before all 20 leaders posed for the customary “family photo.”
Mr. Biden has reveled in the return to backslapping American diplomacy, and on Saturday he scored a victory as leaders endorsed a landmark deal that seeks to block large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes. The global agreement to set minimum levels of corporate taxation is aimed at stopping companies from sheltering revenue in tax havens like Bermuda.
Also on Saturday, Mr. Biden met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to discuss rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear pact, which President Donald J. Trump abandoned. While Mr. Biden said that the Iran talks — one of his most elusive diplomatic goals — were “scheduled to resume,” the other leaders walked back his statement, saying that they “welcome President Biden’s clearly demonstrated commitment to return the U.S. to full compliance” with the agreement.
President Biden met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Sunday on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Rome, amid severe strains in relations between the NATO allies.
The second meeting between the men since Mr. Biden’s inauguration came just days after Mr. Erdogan had threatened to expel 10 diplomats, including the American ambassador, for calling for the release of a jailed Turkish philanthropist. That dispute was resolved with an exchange of diplomatic statements, but underlined how volatile the relationship remains.
Other points of dispute between the leaders remain large, especially over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Mr. Erdogan has refused to step back from the purchase, despite sanctions and expulsion from a U.S. defense program to develop the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
But facing pressure at home over a deteriorating economy from a strengthened opposition, Mr. Erdogan is looking for a deal to replace the F-35 program and has asked to purchase new, U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to update its fleet with money it had already spent for the F-35s.
Mr. Biden is expected to agree to consider it, since it would prevent Turkey from going to Russia for fighter aircraft and prevent further disruption of the NATO defense system. But in brief comments before the meeting, the president did not answer directly when asked if he would approve a deal on the F-16s.
“We’re planning to have a good conversation,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Erdogan has not been able to deflect other disputes that have badly dented his country’s investment climate, including a Justice Department case that accuses state-owned lender Halkbank of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and the inclusion of Turkey on a global money laundering “gray list” for failing to do enough to curb terrorist financing.
Officials said that the leaders would also discuss regional issues including the conflict in Syria, where Mr. Erdogan is threatening another incursion to push back Syrian government forces and allies from an area close to the Turkish border.
Afghanistan, where Turkey has been meeting with the ruling Taliban in an attempt to encourage them to adopt a more moderate stance, and Libya, where Ankara intervened militarily to support the government in Tripoli, were also expected to be discussed, officials said.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the G20 in Rome on Sunday morning, having what the State Department described as a candid but apparently less confrontational exchange of views than in previous meetings.
The meeting took place at the residence where Mr. Wang stayed and lasted an hour, setting the stage for a “virtual meeting” being planned between President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two leaders have agreed to hold the meeting before the end of the year, but the official said that no date or agenda has been set. The official noted that conducting the meeting virtually was a concession to the fact that Mr. Xi has not traveled outside China since the coronavirus began to spread from Wuhan in January 2020.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” the State Department said in a statement.
Only days ago, Chinese officials excoriated Mr. Blinken in particular for suggesting that Taiwan should be allowed a role at the United Nations and other international bodies. The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, warned that Mr. Blinken had “once again crossed China’s red line” on Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
Sunday’s meeting did not resolve any of the differences over those and other fundamental issues, but Mr. Blinken reiterated that the administration has not altered its policy toward Taiwan, which includes providing political support.
The State Department’s statement said that Mr. Blinken raised concerns over Chinese actions “that undermine the international rules-based order and that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies,” including rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. The two men also discussed several areas where the United States and China hoped to make progress toward political resolutions, including Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar.
When Mr. Blinken and Mr. Wang first met in Alaska in March, they had a testy public exchange, signaling a souring of relations that the Chinese hoped would improve after the departure of President Trump.
Many of the protests on Saturday in Rome at the Group of 20 summit focused on the threat posed by climate change. The leaders gathered there, including President Biden, were discussing that issue, as well as moving toward a more equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines and a global minimum tax for corporations.
The annual Group of 20 summit meeting, which brings together President Biden and other world leaders, is intended to foster global economic cooperation. But with so many top officials in one place, it also serves as an all-purpose jamboree of nonstop formal and informal diplomatic activity.
This year’s meeting is taking place in Rome on Saturday and Sunday and is expected covering issues like climate change, the global supply chain, the pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. If the members can reach consensus on such subjects, they will produce an official joint declaration at the end.
Here is a look at what the Group of 20 is and does, and some of the important things to watch during the summit.
What is the G20?
The Group of 20 is an organization of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 individual countries and the European Union.
In addition to the United States, those countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. Collectively, its members represent more than 80 percent of the world’s economic output.
Established in 1999 after a series of major international debt crises, the G20 aims to unite world leaders around shared economic, political and health challenges. It is a creation of the more select Group of 7, an informal bloc of industrialized democracies.
Supporters argue that as national economies grow ever more globalized, it is essential that political and finance leaders work closely together.
What is the G20 summit?
Formally the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy,” the G20 meeting is an annual gathering of finance ministers and heads of state representing the members.
It bills itself as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” The heads of state first convened officially in November 2008 as the global financial crisis began to unfold.
The annual summit meeting is hosted by the nation that holds the rotating presidency; this year, it’s Italy.
What happens at a G20 summit?
It is focused on several core issues around which its leaders hope to reach a consensus for collective action.
The goal is to conclude the two-day gathering by issuing a joint statement committing its members to action, although the declaration is not legally binding. But one-on-one meetings can overshadow official business.
As G20 leaders gathered in Rome, a violent cyclone struck the Italian island of Sicily this week, causing violent storms and flooding in one of the extreme weather events that have become increasingly common.
On Friday, the Apollo cyclone brought record rain to Sicily’s southern area, comparable to the amount usually registered in three or four months, flooding streets and damaging houses.
“The cyclone in Sicily is a dramatic message to the G20,” said Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, a former environment minister. “There is no more time.”
“We have a city in total chaos,” said Michele Dell’Aira, a civil protection official in Siracusa, a major city also on Sicily’s eastern coast, where volunteers used dinghies to rescue residents from flooded homes. “These weather events are more and more unpredictable.”
Storms in the region started last week, and the flood killed three people in the area around the city of Catania. There, more than 20 inches of rain fell in two days. The mayor closed shops and schools and asked everyone to stay home as a torrent of water and mud flowed among the city’s baroque churches, tearing down orange trees and destroying the olive harvest.
“Water did not leave anything untouched,” said Francesco Guasto, a volunteer in the area.
Over the weekend, the situation in the area improved, but on Saturday some streets remained inaccessible due to water.
Antonio Navarra, a professor of meteorology and oceanography and the president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, said that while he could not directly attribute the storms to global warming, climate change was making these adverse events more extreme and frequent.
He hoped G20 leaders act to reduce carbon emissions.
“It’s the common good,” he said. “We all have an interest for things to improve.”