US president-elect Joe Biden speaks to European allies as strongmen stay silent

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks on the telephone with US President-elect Joe Biden at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Nov 10, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President-elect Joe Biden fielded congratulatory calls from European leaders on Tuesday (Nov 10), even as some of President Donald Trump's authoritarian allies maintained a conspicuous silence about the election that could foreshadow coming tensions with the Biden administration.

Mr Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.

He offered the leaders messages of support and cooperation, his transition team said in a statement, including expressing to Mr Macron "his interest in reinvigorating bilateral and trans-Atlantic ties, including through Nato" and the European Union - institutions that Mr Trump has repeatedly derided.

The conversations offered a clear reaffirmation of US-European ties and a signal of a broader return to normalcy in foreign relations ahead.

Coupled with the conspicuous silence of more authoritarian leaders, they also provided early hints of a reordering of American allies and antagonists back to their state before Mr Trump's disruptive foreign policy sank trans-Atlantic relations to their lowest point since World War II.

Among those who have remained silent are President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and President Xi Jinping of China.

After days of quiet, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally congratulated Mr Biden on Tuesday, according to Turkish state media, days after most other allies of Nato, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, had already done so.

None of those authoritarian leaders - with the possible exception of Mr Xi, whose calculations are unclear - welcome the prospect of a Biden presidency after years of mostly friendly relations with Mr Trump.

Mr Biden's conversations with European leaders - whose contents were described by the Biden transition team in greater detail than is typical of the Trump White House - were also a stark contrast to the first days after the 2016 election, when Mr Trump seemed to field visits and calls in haphazard fashion.

Japan's prime minister at the time, Mr Shinzo Abe, quickly flew to Trump Tower in mid-November to become the first foreign leader to meet Mr Trump, a first for a Japanese leader, while Mr Trump took a call from the President of Taiwan in what was a startling breach of diplomatic protocol that infuriated Beijing.

"He's doing it in the right order, unlike Trump when he took office," said Ms Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the Obama administration. "Protocol is back."

Mr Jeremy Shapiro, a former Obama State Department official now with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that under past circumstances, there would be nothing remarkable about a president-elect speaking to several European allies. But given four years of tensions with Mr Trump, the calls hold unusual meaning.

"It's part of his overall approach to saying, 'We're back, and we're going to start obeying diplomatic norms, we're going to start treating allies better than dictators'," Mr Shapiro said.

Whether by intention or not, the European leaders also served to further legitimise Mr Biden's victory and discredit Mr Trump's continued false claim to be the winner.

"They've all come out and congratulated him, and in a sense weighed in on what is a domestic political struggle, which is a risky thing for them to do, after all," Mr Shapiro said. "Of course everybody thinks Joe Biden will be president. But they're not 100% sure."

Dr Merkel is clearly delighted by Mr Biden's victory, after four years of Mr Trump's complaints that Germany was taking advantage of the United States economically and militarily.

After Mr Trump won the presidency in 2016, Dr Merkel issued a statement pointedly reminding him that the United States and Germany were "connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man".

By contrast, she said she welcomed Mr Biden's victory "very warmly" with a statement that notably dismissed any doubt about the outcome, declaring: "The American people have made their decision."

Mr Johnson, while in some ways a populist fellow traveller of Mr Trump's, was also notably enthusiastic in a tweet posted after his Tuesday talk with the president-elect, saying he looked forward to working with the incoming president on climate change, democracy promotion and, echoing a Biden campaign slogan, "building back better" from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Biden transition team's descriptions of the calls, Mr Biden and the Europeans also discussed human rights, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and Iran's nuclear programme - all areas in which they largely disagree with Mr Trump's policies.

The descriptions also said Mr Biden and Mr Johnson spoke about strengthening democracy, a core foreign policy theme of Mr Biden's campaign, in which he pledged to defend and restore democratic values around the world under assault from many of the same leaders who have been silent or slow to acknowledge his victory.

Those notably include Mr Putin, whose spokesman said on Sunday that the Kremlin would "wait for an official announcement" before making any statement.

China's Foreign Ministry has used similar language.

Ms Farkas said that any congratulations for Mr Biden's victory by Mr Putin might be particularly painful for Mr Trump, who has spent years courting the Russian leader's favour and boasting about their relationship.

"I do think that if Putin were to acknowledge reality, it would become more difficult for Trump to ignore reality," she said.

Several Middle Eastern autocrats who benefited from friendly relations with Mr Trump also congratulated Mr Biden shortly after he was declared the election winner by major American news organisations, reflecting his growing lead in several state vote counts. They include President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed a close alliance with Mr Trump, has also congratulated Biden.

Mr Thomas Wright, director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, saw a simple message emerging from the past several days.

"The free world is ready to move on," he said. "The autocrats are mourning one of their own."

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