President Biden delivers foreign policy remarks at State Department

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US President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden plans to end U.S. support for a Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen, and freeze the withdrawal of some American troops stationed in Germany, the White House said Thursday.

Ahead of Biden’s visit to the State Department Thursday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced several foreign policy measures that the president will enact. Biden is due to speak at the agency Thursday afternoon.

SAUDI-LED OFFENSIVE IN YEMEN

The halting of U.S. support for a five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen aims to stop one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, according to Sullivan.

The move would fulfill a campaign pledge by Biden, whose administration plans to pursue diplomacy to end the overall conflict in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia began the offensive in 2015 to counter a Yemeni Houthi faction that had seized territory in Yemen and was launching cross-border missiles at Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led air campaign since then has killed numerous civilians, and survivors display fragments showing the bombs to be American-made. The conflict has deepened hunger and poverty in Yemen, and international rights experts say both the Gulf countries and Houthis have committed severe rights abuses.

Biden will also announce the choice of Timothy Lenderking as special envoy to Yemen as soon as Thursday afternoon, when the president is due to speak at the State Department. A person familiar with the matter confirmed the selection, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. The Gulf-based newspaper The National first reported the pick.

Lenderking has been a deputy assistant secretary of state in the agency’s Middle East section. A career foreign service member, he has served in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries inside and out of the Middle East.

U.S. TROOPS IN GERMANY

Sullivan said Biden also plans to freeze his predecessor former President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of some U.S. troops stationed in Germany.

Trump last year, despite congressional resistance, announced plans to redeploy about 9,500 of more than 34,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

Biden’s State Department visit is intended to underscore his promise to restore a multilateral approach to U.S. foreign policy and mark his administration’s reengagement with the international community.

“He wants to send a clear message that our national security strategy will lead with diplomacy,” Sullivan told reporters.

MYANMAR

Though no concrete measures have been announced, the Biden administration is considering an executive order in response to the military takeover in Myanmar, Sullivan confirmed Thursday.

Sullivan said there was bipartisan support on Myanmar, and the administration believed it could work with Congress “on a package of sanctions to impose consequences in response to this coup.”

“We will also be working with allies and partners around the world,” he told a White House news briefing.

“We are reviewing the possibility of a new executive order and we are also looking at specific targeted sanctions, both on individuals and on entities controlled by the military that enrich the military,” Sullivan said.

Myanmar military ruler General Min Aung Hlaing has moved quickly to consolidate his hold after overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and detaining her and allied politicians on Monday.

Biden on Monday pledged to “stand up for democracy” and threatened to re-impose sanctions on Myanmar gradually rolled back by former President Barack Obama.

U.S. officials said this week the U.S. State Department would conduct a review of its foreign assistance to Myanmar. 

LGBTQ RIGHTS AROUND THE WORLD

Biden will also issue a memorandum of understanding on LGBTQ rights globally, Sullivan said Thursday.

“It reflects his deep commitment to these issues both here in the United States and everywhere around the world. The United States will speak out and act on behalf of these rights as we go,” Sullivan told reporters.

While a presidential memorandum is largely symbolic, Biden campaigned on a pledge to pass LGBTQ rights legislation known as the Equality Act in the first 100 days of his administration and to make LGBTQ rights a top priority.

His campaign pledge included protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, ensuring fair treatment in the justice system and advancing LGBTQ rights globally.

Biden is expected to make the announcement during his State Department visit Thursday.

REFUGEES

During Thursday’s visit, officials said, Biden planned to announce that he will increase the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States to more than eight times the level at which Trump’s administration left it.

Trump’s administration reduced the refugee admissions cap to a record low of 15,000 for fiscal year 2021 before he left office. Biden’s plan would raise that number to 125,000, surpassing the ceiling set by President Barack Obama before he left office by 15,000.

Biden’s proposed 125,000 figure is planned for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. It will take time to rebuild the procedural pipeline – which is facing a backlog of thousands of refugees – and more than one-third of resettlement offices closed, including letting go of personnel, due to drops in refugee arrivals. The president is required by law to first consult Congress on his plans before making a determination.

Another issue that may be addressed Thursday is a review of vetting procedures for refugees, according to the officials. The Trump administration had put in place higher background checks that had brought the program to a standstill, advocates say.

The Trump administration also narrowed eligibility, restricting which refugees are selected for resettlement to certain categories, including people persecuted because of religion and Iraqis whose assistance to the U.S. put them in danger.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, formerly the State Department’s top spokesperson, said Biden’s visit Thursday “is largely focused on his desire to thank the men and women who are Foreign Service officers, civil servants, who are the heart and soul of that institution and, frankly, our government.”

Psaki had said that Biden would “talk broadly about foreign policy,” but said it wasn’t intended to be his first major foreign policy address as president.

However, the visit comes in conjunction with a number of policy announcements meant to restore the nation’s place on the global stage. As a senator from Delaware, he spent years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the visit’s timing, within two weeks of his presidency, signals the importance of the most senior of Cabinet agencies in his agenda.

Biden chose longtime confidant Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state, aiming to reinvigorate an American diplomatic corps that had been depleted, having in years past been the focus of potential budget cuts of up to 35%.

Although Biden’s first nominations and appointments to senior positions at State have trended toward political appointees, the president and Blinken have pledged to promote career staffers.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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