U.S. allies stressed the need to rebuild ties and multilateral cooperation after President Trump’s “America First” approach upended decades of U.S. foreign policy. For traditional allies who endured sharp criticism, unpredictable behavior and new tariffs under Trump, the election of Biden offered a return to normalcy.
Time for ‘team play’
Trump tweeted Sunday that the “best pollster in Britain” called it a “stolen election” — a reference that confused British political observers. But many officials in allied countries doubled down on the congratulations they had sent to Biden the day before.
In statements and interviews on Sunday, allies such as Germany and Britain stressed a desire to work together with the Biden administration on major challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
“During the election campaign, Joe Biden made it clear that he believes in Team Play when it comes to the United States on [the] international stage instead of acting by its own,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “We want the West to play as a team again.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has enjoyed good relations with Trump, sent congratulations to Biden and said he expected to be able to work with the president-elect. “We have common values. We have common interests. We have a common global perspective,” he told the Associated Press.
Amid the brief messages of congratulations that are typical following an election, some leaders underscored a need for a return to multilateralism and cooperation. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, noted that Biden has been “a strong supporter of our Alliance,” which he said was good for both “North America & Europe.”
He was echoed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said she wanted to “intensify cooperation with the new U.S. administration” on pressing global challenges including the coronavirus and climate change.
The prime minister of Montenegro, whom Trump famously pushed aside at the 2017 NATO summit, said the election “restores faith in the power of democracy and the return of stability in international relations.”
Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the World Health Organization during the coronavirus pandemic was one of his most dramatic repudiations of multilateralism. Biden has said he will reverse the move; WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Sunday that he looked forward to working with him.
“Crises like the #COVID19 pandemic show the importance of global solidarity in protecting lives and livelihoods,” he said.
International media covered the event widely. The Sunday Times in London carried the headline “Sleepy Joe wakes up America” with a picture of a Black woman with a U.S. flag wrapped around her shoulders. The French television station BFM TV said 313,000 viewers had stayed up past 2 a.m. local time to watch Biden’s speech.
The Irish media published several articles that touched on Biden’s Irish ancestry. “What are Joe Biden’s Irish roots?” was one of the most-read stories on the Irish Times’ website.
With Trump still disputing the election, there was hesitation among world leaders who have aligned with him. By Sunday in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had yet to join other U.S. allies offering congratulations to Biden.
Trump’s defeat was seen as a blow to Erdogan, depriving him of an unflinching friend who viewed his authoritarian impulses as an asset and called him “a tough guy who deserves respect.” In an interview, Vice President Fuat Oktay said that ties would continue as before.
There was also silence from Saudi Arabia, one of the most important U.S. allies in the Middle East. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, has developed close relations with the Trump administration and a personal friendship with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
On the anniversary last month of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was dismembered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, Biden called for accountability and human rights reform in the kingdom. After Biden’s victory, Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted: “If you don’t find justice on your own, time will bring its own justice.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would not comment on the election until the result was final. Despite differences over migration, Trump’s border wall, trade and other issues, López Obrador and Trump developed a warm personal relationship.
“We don’t want to be imprudent,” López Obrador told reporters late Saturday. “President Trump has been very respectful of us, and we have reached good agreements,” he said.
For Europe’s anti-immigrant right, Trump’s defeat appeared to sting. Estonian Interior Minister Mart Helme claimed Sunday that the election results had been falsified and there could be a civil war.
“Trump will win eventually; it will happen as a result of an immense struggle, maybe even bloodshed, but justice will win in the end,” Helme said, according to Estonian Public Broadcasting.
There were signs that others were adjusting to the reality of a Biden presidency. Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa was one of the only world leaders to congratulate Trump after the election. On Sunday, he tweeted that he has always worked closely with Washington “no matter which party the U.S. president was from.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said in September he hoped Trump would win the election, acknowledged Biden’s victory on Sunday.
“Please allow me to congratulate you on your successful campaign,” he wrote in a letter to Biden, according to a spokesman. “I wish you good health and continuous successes in fulfilling your duties of extraordinary responsibility.”
Some foreign officials who congratulated Biden appeared wary of angering Trump, who remains in office until Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, pressed on Trump’s unfounded accusations of voter fraud on Sunday, said, “I’m not going to get drawn into it.”
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu did not join the cascade of world leaders congratulating Biden on Saturday. He waited until the next day to tweet: “Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel.”
He then immediately tweeted thanks to Trump for his policy gifts to Israel. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally.”
In the West Bank, Palestinian leaders hailed the defeat of Trump, whom they have accused of putting U.S. policy at the service of the Israeli right wing. “There was nothing worse than the Trump era,” former Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said in an interview with Turkish media. “Good riddance.”
Rivals remain circumspect
The election was closely watched by U.S. rivals. Iran expressed the hope that Biden would pursue a less confrontational path.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said “the next U.S. administration should use the opportunity to make up for past mistakes.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hoped Biden would “abandon [the] disastrous lawless bullying of [the] outgoing regime — and accept multilateralism, cooperation & respect for law.”
Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and slapped heavy sanctions on the country. Biden has said he would rejoin the deal, which the Obama administration negotiated with China, Russia, the European Union and several individual European nations, if Iran demonstrates compliance.
China reacted cautiously to Biden’s win; President Xi Jinping has issued no statement. But the country’s tightly controlled state media appeared to cautiously welcome Biden as president-elect. The nationalistic tabloid Global Times suggested there could be a “an opportunity for breakthroughs.”
“Chinese people generally have a good impression of the president-elect,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin said in a video message. “Hopefully he will be a more rational U.S. president.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that she “looked fwd to working together to further our friendship.” In 2016, then-President-elect Trump took a congratulatory call from Tsai, infuriating China.
Russia has been silent on the election result, but opposition figure Alexei Navalny congratulated Biden and Harris. He said a free and fair election “is a privilege which is not available to all countries” and expressed hope for a new level of cooperation between Russia and the United States.
Schemm reported from Dubai. Gerry Shih in Taipei, Taiwan; Regine Cabato in Manila; Joanna Slater in New Delhi; Sarah Dadouch in Beirut; Kareem Fahim in Istanbul; Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow; Susannah George in Kabul; and Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico City also contributed to this report.