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‘America is back’: World leaders react to Biden’s inauguration

‘A great day for democracy,’ says Italian PM Giuseppe Conte

Matt Mathers
Wednesday 20 January 2021 19:29 GMT
President Biden's inauguration speech in full
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World leaders are congratulating Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th president of the United States, bringing to an end one of the most chaotic periods in American history under Donald Trump, who earlier today left the White House for the final time under a cloud of scandal and having issued a flurry of pardons to his friends and associates.

After he was sworn in, Mr Biden delivered remarks in front of a vacant but heavily militarised National Mall that had been filled with American flags due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the handling of which is likely to define the new president's first year in the Oval Office.

"This is America's day," said Mr Biden as he began his speech. "This is democracy's day. Democracy has prevailed," he added, in the only attack at the outgoing president, who attempted to subvert the will of the American people and overturn the election result but failed.

As expected, the new commander-in-chief called for unity, urging Republicans and Democrats on opposites sides of the aisle to come together to overcome the country's challenges and "restore the soul and secure the future of America".

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal," Mr Biden went on. "We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts." As well as vowing to tame the pandemic, Mr Biden pledged to make the climate crisis a priority and promised to defeat "domestic terrorism" in the wake of the deadly riot at the US Capitol earlier this month that left five people dead.

With a bursting in-tray on the home front, Mr Biden understandably did not have much to say about America's interests around the world, although he has already said he will re-sign the Paris Climate Agreement, reverse Mr Trump’s travel ban on Muslim countries and attempt to restore the Iran nuclear deal.

Despite Mr Biden devoting little time to international relations in his remarks, prime ministers and presidents across the globe will likely have breathed a sigh of relief now Mr Trump has finally left the Washington DC "swamp" he promised to clean up upon entering office.

Some country's leaders have reacted more warmly towards the new president than others, but all will no doubt will be relieved at the departure of Mr Trump's Twitter diplomacy.

Among those not holding back in congratulating the new president on being sworn in was European commission president Ursula von der Leyen. "The United States is back," she wrote on Twitter. "And Europe stands ready. To reconnect with an old and trusted partner, to breathe new life into our cherished alliance. I look forward to working together with Joe Biden," she added.

After coming under fresh scutiny over his relationship with Mr Trump in recent weeks, UK prime minister Boris Johnson was slightly more measured in sending his best wishes to the new president. "Congratulations to Joe Biden on being sworn in as President of the United States and to Kamala Harris on her historic inauguration," Mr Johnson tweeted. "America’s leadership is vital on the issues that matter to us all, from climate change to Covid, and I look forward to working with President Biden."

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte described Mr Biden's inauguration as "a great day for democracy".

He tweeted: “Wishing good work to President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. This is a great day for democracy, reaching far beyond the American borders. Italy stands ready to face the challenges of our common international agenda together with the United States.”

Mr Biden has made no secret of his roots and Irish premier Michael Martin will be hoping the administration is a friend to the Emerald Isle as it begins to feel the fall out from the UK's vote to leave the EU.    

In a tweet, Mr Martin said: "Today a true friend of Ireland @JoeBiden became the 46th President of the USA. As he said in his speech, it is a day of history and hope and I look forward to forging ever closer ties between our two great nations. #InaugurationDay

In a video statement, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "I am greatly relieved that, today, Joe Biden is being sworn in as president and will be moving into the White House. I know many people in Germany share this feeling.”

Despite the collapse of his government earlier this week over a childcare benefit scandal, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, also took the time to congratulate to the new president. 

In Russia meanwhile, the inauguration was met with a muted response from the Kremlin and its allies in the state media.

On Channel 1, presenters were largely unmoved by the events. Most noted the militarised presentation of Washington D.C. during the unusual ceremony. But only Olga Skabayeva, the presenter of the evening’s prime-time propaganda chat show, seemed genuinely animated by the pandemic and security-stunted event.

“No one came to Old man Joe’s inauguration,” she declared. “Why all the high walls? The barbed wire? Are they scared of something?”

Earlier in the day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed his boss had no plans to mark the occasion — or send an immediate telegram. Vladimir Putin was the last of major world leaders to congratulate the incoming president on his election.

“Nothing changes,” Mr Peskov said. “Russia will continue to live as it has done for many centuries, looking for friendly relations with the United States.”

The mood was more buoyant in Kiev, where Volodymyr Zelensky expressed relief at the prospect of a post-Trump White House. The Ukrainian president immediately invited Mr Biden to Kiev, and suggested relations would be “enhanced” by his new administration.  

Ukraine was one of the obvious losers from Mr Trump’s unorthodox approach to international affairs. In 2019, the US president held up vital security aid for the war-torn nation — apparently in the hope of obtaining dirt on his rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. That infamous quid-pro-quo became the focus of the first, and ultimately unsuccessful, impeachment trial.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who had markedly frosty relations with Mr Trump, also said earlier this week that the new administration would "mark a new chapter in the incredible relationship between [the] two countries."

(Getty Images)

Wednesday's scaled-back inauguration ceremony was stripped of much of its usual celebratory spirit  - but it is one that made history.  Mr Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first black person, first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president after she was sworn in by US Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's first Latina member.

There were performances from pop stars Lady Gaga and Garth Brooks, who sang the national anthem. Jennifer Lopez also performed a mixture of songs.

The cultural celebrations will continue on Wednesday night with a two-hour special broadcast across six television networks and social media, hosted by the affable "Toy Story" actor Tom Hanks, who is known as 'America's Dad.'

The events, bringing together some of the biggest white, black and Hispanic celebrities, mark a sharp contrast with Trump's inauguration in 2017, which was low on star power and saw several performers declining invitations for inaugural events.

Wednesday's TV special, called "Celebrating America," will feature performances and appearances from around the nation from stars including Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Tim McGraw, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, and John Legend.

Biden's inaugural committee said the special will also feature teachers, delivery drivers, and healthcare workers, along with children who raised money to get food to people who have fallen on hard times because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Additional reporting by Oliver Carroll

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