Biden vows G-7 will remain united behind Ukraine, as Russia steps up attacks

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and U.S. President Joe Biden, center, arrive for the official G7 summit welcome ceremony at Castle Elmau in Kruen, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday, June 26, 2022. The Group of Seven leading economic powers are meeting in Germany for their annual gathering Sunday through Tuesday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and President Biden arrive for the official Group of 7 summit welcome ceremony at Castle Elmau in Krun, Germany, on Sunday, opening three days of meetings among leaders of the world's biggest democracies. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)

President Biden and the leaders of the world's most powerful democracies convened here Sunday for the annual Group of 7 summit, displaying resolve — and a bit of levity — in maintaining their commitment to supporting Ukraine as they seek to address global economic woes, food shortages and the needs of the developing world.

As meetings got underway Sunday morning at Schloss Elmau, a historic chateau in the Bavarian Alps, Biden said the U.S. and its allies would announce a ban on imports of Russian gold in a new effort to deny Moscow an economic lifeline amid ongoing sanctions from the West.

"We have to stay together because Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO would — and the G-7 — would splinter," Biden said, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he began a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. "But we haven't and we're not going to."

Although a formal announcement of the ban on Russian gold is set for Tuesday, Biden tweeted about it on Sunday, declaring that the move would stop Moscow from profiting from "a major export that rakes in tens of billions of dollars."

The G-7 leaders also mocked Putin as they posed for a photo at the start of a meeting. As he sat down at a round table, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the others about whether to keep his suit jacket on. "We have to show we're tougher than Putin," Johnson joked. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joked back: "Bare-chested horseback ride," referencing a photo of the Russian leader from years ago.

The jocular banter came just hours after Russian forces launched a brutal missile attack on civilian targets in Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv, a clear signal from Putin that he is not relenting in his ongoing war, despite the pressure campaign from G-7 nations and NATO.

Asked moments earlier to comment on the shelling, Biden was more serious, calling it "more of their barbarism."

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled on Monday to deliver a virtual address to the G-7, which also includes the leaders of France, Italy, Japan and the European Union.

Meetings Sunday focused on addressing impacts of the war — rising inflation, energy disruptions and worsening food shortages — as well as the rollout of a revamped infrastructure bank aimed at offering developing countries financing alternatives to China's $4-trillion Belt and Road Initiative, which has been criticized for increasing corruption and violating labor, environmental and other standards.

A year after first declaring their intent to form such an entity, G-7 leaders announced a plan to mobilize nearly $600 billion in global capital over the next five years to help smaller countries fund infrastructure improvements through what's being called the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.

A third of that — $200 billion — will come from the U.S. through a mix of grants, public funding and private investments. An administration official who briefed reporters on the initiative wouldn't say how much public money Washington was committing.

"Developing countries often lack the essential infrastructure to help navigate global shocks like a pandemic. So they feel the impacts more acutely, and they have a harder time recovering," Biden said. "In our deeply connected world, that's not just a humanitarian concern. It's an economic and a security concern for all of us."

With inflation affecting the U.S. and most of the other G-7 nations, Biden made a point of stating that the resources aimed at helping other countries were necessary investments that will enhance global stability by improving public health, expanding economic opportunity and accelerating the development of clean energy.

"This isn't aid or charity," he said. "It's an investment that will deliver returns for everyone, including the American people." Short-term challenges like higher prices for consumers "will not divert us away from our affirmative agenda to show the world that democracies, when they work together, provide the single best path to deliver results for our people and people all over the world."

But back home, the Supreme Court's rollback of abortion rights Friday continued to dominate the news, overshadowing Biden's high-stakes diplomacy and complicating his determination to carry democracy's torch on the world stage. And the growing domestic unease, including pressure from progressives demanding that Biden and Democrats fight harder to preserve abortion rights, only added to the doubts of the president's G-7 counterparts about the stability of his presidency and American democracy more broadly.

Biden, who blasted the 5-4 ruling by the court's conservative majority Friday as "a tragic error," has lamented his lack of authority to protect reproductive rights and called on Congress to codify them in federal law.

On Saturday, before departing Washington, Biden again criticized the court for making some "terrible decisions," a day after calling the ruling the "culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law."

"It’s a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court, in my view," Biden said Friday, noting that the conservative justices were "far removed" from how Americans feel about abortion rights. Just over 60% of Americans believe abortion should remain legal in all or most cases, according to the latest Pew survey this month.

The ruling drew responses from several heads of state who are meeting with Biden in Europe this week, evoking explicit laments and even pity about what they viewed as more evidence of America's democratic backsliding.

Johnson called the ruling "a big step backwards," reiterating his support for women's reproductive rights.

Johnson, however, clarified in an interview with CNN that he does not believe the reversal of Roe undermines Biden's ability to advocate for democratic values around the world. "If you look at what Joe Biden is doing to stick up for people's rights in Ukraine, it's quite extraordinary," he said. "So I don't see — I don't see it that way at all."

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that abortion "is a fundamental right for all women" and "must be protected," adding an expression of support for "the women whose liberties are being undermined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

And New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who will attend this week's NATO summit along with Biden and most of the other G-7 leaders starting Tuesday night in Madrid, said the loss of abortion rights in the U.S. "feels like a loss for women everywhere."

She added: "When there are so many issues to tackle, so many challenges that face women and girls, we need progress, not to fight the same fights and move backwards."

On the first day of G-7 meetings, Macron also said that his party plans to propose a bill to inscribe abortion rights in the country's constitution. "What happened elsewhere must not happen in France," he said.

Biden, 79, has always considered himself an institutionalist, reluctant to get behind updating the country's governmental framework even as it undermines his agenda.

In January, however, he threw his support behind a Democratic attempt to change the filibuster rule requiring 60 Senate votes to advance legislation. He called on his party, which controls the evenly divided Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris breaks tie votes, to pass a bill ensuring federal voting rights protections. The effort failed when two moderate Democrats refused to acquiesce in changing Senate rules.

Codifying the rights enshrined in the original Roe decision into federal law would require a similar effort to circumvent the filibuster. As far as alternatives, Biden has long been skeptical of adding justices to alter the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Germany on Saturday that Biden "does not agree" with changing the makeup of the court.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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