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Fresh off a win on Saturday with a global corporate tax agreement and some progress toward restoring the nuclear accord with Iran, President Biden returned for the final day of the Group of 20 summit on Sunday facing far more difficult challenges, including pressure to take stronger action on climate change and to make concrete progress on delivering Covid vaccines to the poorest countries.
The difficult agenda facing the leaders of 20 of the wealthiest nations, their first in-person meeting since the pandemic began, illustrated a widening divide with developing countries. Those nations have argued that industrialized countries have hoarded vaccines and squandered decades of opportunities to slow the warming of the planet.
After the summit in Rome, Mr. Biden and other leaders will travel to Glasgow for a United Nations climate conference, where they will confront demands from scientific experts and many developing countries to rapidly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for heating the planet. The talks in Glasgow, known as COP26, come as the U.N. warns of a looming climate catastrophe and are shaping up as a test of whether global cooperation is even possible to address a crisis that does not recognize national borders.
A senior administration official told reporters on Saturday evening that American negotiators were pushing for concrete progress from the summit on reducing methane emissions, decarbonizing the global power sector and ending international financing for coal projects.
For Mr. Biden, who has staked his presidency on his ability to forge consensus at home and abroad, the return to in-person diplomacy presented an opportunity for good news after weeks of negative headlines.
His struggles included the battle to unify Democrats in Congress behind his huge economic and environmental spending plan, as well as trying to manage the fallout from the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He began the weekend in Rome by smoothing things over with President Emmanuel Macron of France, acknowledging that the administration’s handling of a submarine deal had been “clumsy.”
Mr. Biden faced a trickier meeting on Sunday morning with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, amid tensions over Ankara’s threats to expel ambassadors from the United States and other nations and its purchase of a Russian missile-defense system. A senior Biden administration official told reporters in Rome that the meeting would cover a range of topics, including Syria, Libya and Turkey’s desire to acquire U.S.-made F16 jets.
Despite the tensions, the two leaders were seen chatting several times at the summit on Saturday, with Mr. Biden gesturing animatedly at Mr. Erdogan before all 20 leaders posed for the customary “family photo.”
Mr. Biden has reveled in the return to backslapping American diplomacy, and on Saturday he scored a victory as leaders endorsed a landmark deal that seeks to block large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes. The global agreement to set minimum levels of corporate taxation is aimed at stopping companies from sheltering revenue in tax havens like Bermuda.
Also on Saturday, Mr. Biden met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to discuss rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear pact, which President Donald J. Trump abandoned. While Mr. Biden said that the Iran talks — one of his most elusive diplomatic goals — were “scheduled to resume,” the other leaders walked back his statement, saying that they “welcome President Biden’s clearly demonstrated commitment to return the U.S. to full compliance” with the agreement.
President Biden met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Sunday on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Rome, amid severe strains in relations between the NATO allies.
The second meeting between the men since Mr. Biden’s inauguration came just days after Mr. Erdogan had threatened to expel 10 diplomats, including the American ambassador, for calling for the release of a jailed Turkish philanthropist. That dispute was resolved with an exchange of diplomatic statements, but underlined how volatile the relationship remains.
The meeting on Sunday ended without any result except to keep talking, reflecting a recognition of their need to engage despite the breadth of disagreements, largely in view of Turkey’s influence in several critical regions, including Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish media played up the length of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, and reported a government official saying that it was held in a “very positive atmosphere.”
Points of dispute between the leaders remain large, especially over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Mr. Erdogan has refused to step back from the purchase, despite sanctions and expulsion from a U.S. defense program to develop the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
But facing pressure at home over a deteriorating economy from a strengthened opposition, Mr. Erdogan is looking for a deal to replace the F-35 program and has asked to purchase new, U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to update its fleet with money it had already spent for the F-35s.
A senior Biden administration official said that the president “took on board” Mr. Erdogan’s desire to procure F-16s, “but made very clear that there is a process that we have to go through in the U.S., and committed to continuing to work through that process.” Congressional authorization is required for the sale.
A U.S. statement released after the meeting said that Mr. Biden “noted U.S. concerns over Turkey’s possession of the Russian S-400 missile system. He also emphasized the importance of strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the rule of law for peace and prosperity.”
A Turkish statement said the two sides agreed to boost trade, and continue to strengthen and develop strategic ties. But with no further bilateral meetings planned, the talks showed that “this is no longer a core strategic relationship for either side,” said Asli Aydintasbas, senior fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Both want to manage it and the Biden administration is keen to avoid new crises with Turkey,” she said.
Mr. Erdogan has not been able to deflect other disputes that have badly dented his country’s investment climate, including a Justice Department case that accuses state-owned lender Halkbank of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and the inclusion of Turkey on a global money laundering “gray list” for failing to do enough to curb terrorist financing.
Ahead of the meeting, officials had said that the leaders would discuss regional issues including the conflict in Syria, where Mr. Erdogan has threatened another incursion to push back Syrian government forces and allies from an area close to the Turkish border.
Afghanistan, where Turkey has been meeting with the ruling Taliban in an attempt to encourage them to adopt a more moderate stance, and Libya, where Ankara intervened militarily to support the government in Tripoli, were discussed, officials said.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the G20 in Rome on Sunday morning, having what the State Department described as a candid but apparently less confrontational exchange of views than in previous meetings.
The meeting took place at the residence where Mr. Wang stayed and lasted an hour, setting the stage for a “virtual meeting” being planned between President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The two leaders have agreed to hold the meeting before the end of the year, but the official said that no date or agenda had been set. The official noted that conducting the meeting virtually was a concession to the fact that Mr. Xi has not traveled outside China since the coronavirus began to spread from Wuhan in January 2020.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” the State Department said in a statement.
Only days ago, Chinese officials excoriated Mr. Blinken in particular for suggesting that Taiwan should be allowed a role at the United Nations and other international bodies. The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, warned that Mr. Blinken had “once again crossed China’s red line” on Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.
Sunday’s meeting did not resolve any of the differences over those and other fundamental issues, but Mr. Blinken reiterated that the administration has not altered its policy toward Taiwan, which includes providing political support.
The State Department’s statement said that Mr. Blinken raised concerns over Chinese actions “that undermine the international rules-based order and that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies,” including rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. The two men also discussed several areas where the United States and China hoped to make progress toward political resolutions, including Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar.
When Mr. Blinken and Mr. Wang first met in Alaska in March, they had a testy public exchange, signaling a souring of relations that the Chinese hoped would improve after the departure of President Donald J. Trump.
The G20 is taking place at one of the latest additions to Rome’s storied architectural fabric: Rome’s newish Convention Center, aptly named “La Nuvola,” or cloud, because it contains an enormous cloudlike structure that appears as though suspended within a gigantic, mostly transparent, glass and steel outer shell.
The floating structure is actually an 1,800-seat auditorium where the plenary sessions have been taking place. Seen from up close, a gigantic cocoon comes to mind, covered by 15,000 square meters of flame retardant material that can change color on command.
The pandemic upended scheduled events, but many Romans still got a chance to visit the space during the seven months that it was one of Rome’s most active vaccination hubs, with more than a half million doses administered here.
“On leaving, many people would say: ‘It doesn’t feel like Italy,’ ” said Antonio Rosati, the managing director of EUR Spa, the public real estate development company that manages the convention center. But, he added, any Romans were able to discover a “marvelous place.”
The vaccination hub closed on Sept. 30, and the Convention Center reopened to the public earlier this month with a concert in the auditorium by Patti Smith.
Now the G20 is offering the convention center a more global platform.
“Along with the government, we’re trying to ‘fare bella figura,’” said Mr. Rosati, using an Italian term that in this case goes beyond its literal meaning of “making a good impression” to become an expression of national pride. The G20 “will help us attract big congresses in the future” and give greater visibility to the center and its surroundings, a distinct quarter about five miles south of the center of Rome.
It was designed under Mussolini, who had envisioned a suburban neighborhood of oversized marble palazzos and grand boulevards, a contemporary companion to the glories of imperial Rome. It was to debut in 1942 as the site of a world fair, but that plan was also upended by unpredictable events, in that case World War II.
And five years after its inauguration, the cement and wire fences that surrounded some of the building, giving a strong do-not-cross-vibe, were removed for the G20, finally giving access to a long-promised public square.
“We will have a great agora, and everything will be more beautiful,” Mr. Rosati said.
Many of the protests on Saturday in Rome at the Group of 20 summit focused on the threat posed by climate change. The leaders gathered there, including President Biden, were discussing that issue, as well as moving toward a more equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines and a global minimum tax for corporations.
The annual Group of 20 summit meeting, which brings together President Biden and other world leaders, is intended to foster global economic cooperation. But with so many top officials in one place, it also serves as an all-purpose jamboree of nonstop formal and informal diplomatic activity.
This year’s meeting is taking place in Rome on Saturday and Sunday and is expected covering issues like climate change, the global supply chain, the pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. If the members can reach consensus on such subjects, they will produce an official joint declaration at the end.
Here is a look at what the Group of 20 is and does, and some of the important things to watch during the summit.
What is the G20?
The Group of 20 is an organization of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 individual countries and the European Union.
In addition to the United States, those countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. Collectively, its members represent more than 80 percent of the world’s economic output.
Established in 1999 after a series of major international debt crises, the G20 aims to unite world leaders around shared economic, political and health challenges. It is a creation of the more select Group of 7, an informal bloc of industrialized democracies.
Supporters argue that as national economies grow ever more globalized, it is essential that political and finance leaders work closely together.
What is the G20 summit?
Formally the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy,” the G20 meeting is an annual gathering of finance ministers and heads of state representing the members.
It bills itself as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” The heads of state first convened officially in November 2008 as the global financial crisis began to unfold.
The annual summit meeting is hosted by the nation that holds the rotating presidency; this year, it’s Italy.
What happens at a G20 summit?
It is focused on several core issues around which its leaders hope to reach a consensus for collective action.
The goal is to conclude the two-day gathering by issuing a joint statement committing its members to action, although the declaration is not legally binding. But one-on-one meetings can overshadow official business.
As G20 leaders gathered in Rome, a violent cyclone struck the Italian island of Sicily this week, causing violent storms and flooding in one of the extreme weather events that have become increasingly common.
On Friday, the Apollo cyclone brought record rain to Sicily’s southern area, comparable to the amount usually registered in three or four months, flooding streets and damaging houses.
“The cyclone in Sicily is a dramatic message to the G20,” said Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, a former environment minister. “There is no more time.”
“We have a city in total chaos,” said Michele Dell’Aira, a civil protection official in Siracusa, a major city also on Sicily’s eastern coast, where volunteers used dinghies to rescue residents from flooded homes. “These weather events are more and more unpredictable.”
Storms in the region started last week, and the flood killed three people in the area around the city of Catania. There, more than 20 inches of rain fell in two days. The mayor closed shops and schools and asked everyone to stay home as a torrent of water and mud flowed among the city’s baroque churches, tearing down orange trees and destroying the olive harvest.
“Water did not leave anything untouched,” said Francesco Guasto, a volunteer in the area.
Over the weekend, the situation in the area improved, but on Saturday some streets remained inaccessible due to water.
Antonio Navarra, a professor of meteorology and oceanography and the president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, said that while he could not directly attribute the storms to global warming, climate change was making these adverse events more extreme and frequent.
He hoped G20 leaders act to reduce carbon emissions.
“It’s the common good,” he said. “We all have an interest for things to improve.”
Prince Charles addressed world leaders ahead of the COP26 summit on climate change, saying that the conference is the “last chance saloon” to avoid the most severe impact from climate change.
“The future of humanity and nature herself is at stake,” said Charles,who is known as the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne.
“It is also impossible not to hear the despairing voices of young people who see you, ladies and gentlemen, as the stewards of the planet holding the viability of their future in your hands,” he told world leaders assembled at the G20 in Rome on Sunday. He reminded them they have an “overwhelming responsibility to generations yet unborn.”
He said that adequately addressing climate change will require “trillions of dollars of investment every year to create the necessary new infrastructure and meet the vital 1.5 degree climate target that will save our forests and farms, our oceans and wildlife.”
“Now, after I suppose nearly 50 years of trying to raise awareness of the growing climate and environmental crisis, I am at last sensing a changing of attitude and a building up of positive momentum.”
The prince is due to welcome world leaders to Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday for the COP26 conference. His mother, Queen Elizabeth, was due to welcome the leaders but has been advised by her doctors to rest.