Inside the Oval Office: the power players with the ear of Joe Biden and Boris Johnson

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office in the White House
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office in the White House

The balanced list of advisers and experts in attendance as Boris Johnson and Joe Biden met in the Oval Office at the White House reflects the importance both sides attach to their alliance, as well as British and American foreign policy priorities.

At the head of the sofa closest to Mr Biden sits Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defence. The former four-star general in the US army was instrumental in overseeing the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the AUKUS submarine deal.

The UK is one of America's closest defence and intelligence allies, with some analysts believing it is one of few areas in which the UK genuinely brings something to the table of value to the Americans in what is a lop-sided alliance.

Across from him sits Liz Truss, the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, in her most significant diplomatic meeting since she took office last week. She held a lengthy bilateral meeting with Anthony Blinken, her direct counterpart, in New York prior to the White House meeting.

Then there is Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden's national security adviser, who sits directly opposite his British counterpart, Sir Stephen Lovegrove. Mr Sullivan is a champion of Mr Biden's focus on China, but has called for rebuilding alliances - including with the UK and Europe - he considered damaged by Donald Trump's administration.

Sir Stephen is a career civil servant who ran the Ministry of Defence and the former Department of Energy and Climate Change, and his expertise on on climate issues underlines the importance Mr Johnson attaches to next month's Cop26 conference in Glasgow.

His expertise is matched by Melanie Nakagawa, Mr Biden's national security council senior director for climate and the key official who will shape America's proposals for cutting emissions at the Glasgow summit.

Beside Mr Sullivan sits Dr Amanda Sloat, a special assistant to the president and national security council's senior director for Europe, who is considered the White House's resident expert on Brexit and UK politics. Like Mr Sullivan, she has previously made the case for revitalising the Transatlantic alliance following the Trump presidency.

Opposite her, in a bright orange dress, sits Karen Pierce, the UK ambassador to the United States – widely considered one of the UK's most formidable and talented diplomats.

Philip Reeker, a veteran US diplomat who was dispatched to the London embassy to hold the fort as Charge d'Affaires while Mr Biden took a puzzlingly long time to choose an ambassador, looks on from the end of the room. He is expected to be replaced by Jane Hartley, a former ambassador to France.

Daleep Singh, a former New York Federal Reserve markets chief who Mr Biden has made both a deputy national security adviser and deputy national economic council director, is also in attendence. His appointment was widely read as a sign Mr Biden is seeking to more closely align economic and foreign policy.

Unlike Mr Biden, Boris Johnson has brought a communications chief with him to the meeting. Jack Doyle, a former Daily Mail journalist, is sitting behind Ms Pierce watching proceedings.

Mr Johnson is the only person in the room not wearing a mask.

There are also a number of British diplomats who usually remain behind the scenes. William Gelling is a former high commissioner to Rwanda who is now a permanent advisor on foreign policy. John Bew, the head of foreign policy at Downing Street’s Policy Unit, brings his own life experience to the visit, having held the Henry Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the John W Kluge Center in Congress until 2014.

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