WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to order an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen in his first visit to the State Department on Thursday, part of the new leader’s effort to reverse the foreign policy posture of his predecessor.
Former President Donald Trump, who frequently touted an “America First” approach to interacting with the world, vetoed a bipartisan resolution in 2019 calling on the U.S. to end involvement in Yemen. Trump’s decision was largely seen as an effort to side with Saudi Arabia, who the former president courted to purchase U.S. weapons.
Trump was a frequent critic of the State Department and his first secretary, Rex Tillerson, was seen as dismantling the agency and hollowing out the ranks of career employees.
“Over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with the leaders of many of our closest friends — Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia — to begin re-forming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscles of democratic alliances that have atrophied from four years of neglect and abuse,” Biden plans to say, according to excerpts of his speech released beforehand.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that it was “not an accident that he has chosen the State Department as the venue for these first remarks,” adding that Biden “wants to send a clear message that our national security strategy will lead with diplomacy.”
Biden is also expected to announce that Tim Lenderking has been tapped to be the U.S. envoy to Yemen, a source familiar with the decision tells NBC News, placing a longtime career diplomat in an important senior position as the US announces an end to American support for offensive operations there.
Secretary of State Blinken described Yemen as “the worst humanitarian situation in the world,” and has said he will prioritize reviewing the Trump Administration’s last minute foreign terrorist designation of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which international organizations say only exacerbates the humanitarian crisis on the ground by blocking the delivery of critical food and aid.
In addition to the order on Yemen, Biden is expected to announce a number of policy actions aimed at undoing Trump’s agenda.
He will order ordering a freeze on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany initiated by Trump and he will issue a memorandum protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals around the world.
Sullivan said that Biden’s remarks will not “be the totality of his foreign policy,” but instead will “be focused on his early decisions and actions.”
Thursday’s actions build off a number of foreign policy moves Biden has taken in his first two weeks in office. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, ended a ban on U.S. entry from majority-Muslim countries and extended a crucial nuclear arms control treaty with Russia until 2026.
Biden’s speech comes as he is already confronting new international crises in just his first two weeks in office: the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a military coup in Myanmar.
Biden is also expected to reference the Jan. 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that targeted American democracy, saying that the nation’s values were “pushed to the brink in the last few weeks” but that “the American people will emerge from this stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy – because we have fought for it ourselves.”
Biden is expected to visit with career officials in the foreign and civil service ahead of his speech. Trump frequently criticized career officials as part of the “deep state” and threatened to cut the department’s budget. The State Department’s civilian workforce shrank under Trump’s administration.
“I want the people who work in this building and in our embassies and consulates around the world to know that I value your expertise, and I respect you,” Biden will say.
“I will have your back. This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that there are no foreign trips in the works as of now and many global meetings with world leaders are expected to be virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.