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Biden, Johnson sign new Atlantic Charter on trade, defense amid Covid recovery

The agreement commits to combatting cyberthreats and climate change and to bringing the pandemic to an end.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a new Atlantic Charter on Thursday, modeled after the 1941 agreement, that outlines eight key areas on which the U.S. and the United Kingdom plan to collaborate.

The revamped charter, which comes during Biden's first trip abroad as president, says it builds "on the commitments and aspirations set out eighty years ago, affirms our ongoing commitment to sustaining our enduring values and defending them against new and old challenges."

Those commitments include defending democracy, reaffirming the importance of collective security and ensuring a fair and open global trading system, the document said.

Biden and Johnson agreed to the revamped accord during a bilateral meeting Thursday at Carbis Bay, Cornwall, in the southwest of England on Thursday ahead of the G-7 summit with other world leaders, which starts Friday.

Speaking to reporters from St. Ives afterward, Biden said he had a "very productive meeting" with Johnson and said they discussed "ambitious" goals on climate change. The president added that they talked about "shared sacrifices" service members from both countries made in Afghanistan.

The charter commits to combating the modern challenges of cyberthreats and climate change and to bringing the pandemic to an end. As a result of the agreement, Biden and Johnson will work to reopen travel between the U.S. and the U.K. as soon as possible. They plan to create a new travel task force that will make recommendations about safely reopening international travel.

“Many people in the U.K. and U.S. have been prevented from seeing family and friends for over 400 days as a result of coronavirus travel restrictions,” Johnson’s office said. “The task force will work to explore options for resuming up U.K.-U.S. travel and ensure that the U.K. and U.S. closely share thinking and expertise on international travel policy going forward.”

To help bring an end to the pandemic globally, the two leaders are expected to agree to work together on genomic sequencing and reviewing Covid-19 variants.

They also agreed to a new plan that would be signed next year that would help alleviate obstacles British technology firms face when working with U.S. counterparts.

The Atlantic Charter was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, outlining their goals for after World War II. Johnson’s office described it as “one of the greatest triumphs of U.K. and U.S. relations and did more than any other agreement to shape the world order, leading directly to the creation of the U.N. and NATO.”

On Thursday, first lady Jill Biden met Johnson and his wife, Carrie, and wore a dark jacket with “LOVE” embroidered on her upper back. She said she and Biden were bringing “love” from America. The statement was a contrast from then-first lady Melania Trump's choice of a green jacket that said, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” on a 2018 trip to a Texas border town to visit migrant children housed in shelters.

Tensions over Brexit's impact

But while the two leaders will seek to invoke a spirit of historic unity Thursday, there was evidence of early tension.

Their collaborative announcement was somewhat overshadowed in the U.K. after the Biden administration issued a warning to Johnson not to let Brexit threaten peace in Northern Ireland.

The British prime minister was the chief architect of his country's departure from the European Union, which Biden has always opposed. The president, who has Irish heritage, is among those who worry Brexit is inflaming sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.

Decades of conflict between mostly Catholic "nationalists" — who want Northern Ireland to reunite with the Irish Republic — and mostly Protestant "unionists" — who want the area to remain part of the U.K. — were calmed by a 1998 peace deal called the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexit has put a strain on that deal because it changes complex trade rules and threatens to upend the delicate settlement between the province's two rival communities.

"President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland," Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One. "Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States."

And while the Atlantic Charter represents the latest chapter in the "special relationship" between Washington and London, the British government said this week that Johnson doesn't like that term. An aide told The Atlantic in a profile about Johnson that the prime minister thought the phrase appeared needy.