By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and AAMER MADHANI – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday he is not yet convinced that Russia’s announcement that it will scale back military operations near the Ukrainian capital of kyiv will bring about a fundamental change in the war.
Biden, during an appearance with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong following bilateral talks at the White House, said he was waiting to see what Russia offers in ongoing talks with Ukraine and how Moscow readjusts its military presence.
U.S. and Western officials expressed skepticism over Russia’s announcement earlier Tuesday that it would recall operations in a bid to boost confidence in ongoing talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Turkey.
“We’ll see,” Biden said. “I can’t see it until I see what their actions are.”
The Democratic president expressed caution over the latest developments after meeting Lee for talks during which he sought to assure Singapore and other Pacific allies that his administration remains focused on the Indo-Pacific region even they are dealing with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. .
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Biden, at the start of an Oval Office meeting with Lee, said it was essential his administration continued to work to strengthen relations with Singapore and other countries in the region. The president has made adjusting US foreign policy to better reflect the rise of America’s main military and economic competitor, China, a central foreign policy objective, but the US invasion of Ukraine Russia complicated the effort.
“Even as we address the crisis in Europe, my administration is strongly in favor of a rapid implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Biden, who also held a call on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, the German chancellor. Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister. Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss developments in Ukraine.
Biden and Lee discussed relations between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, promoting Myanmar’s return to democracy after last year’s military coup and advancing economic growth in the region. Biden said he and Lee consulted on the situation in Ukraine and on “freedom of the seas,” an issue of heightened importance in the region as Beijing has made territorial claims over most of the sea from southern China.
Lee acknowledged that the timing of the visit underscores Biden’s commitment to the region and that the United States will continue to “strengthen its strategic interests in the region.”
“I’m sure you’re completely seized with what’s going on in Europe right now,” Lee said. “But we doubly appreciate your time with Singapore and Southeast Asian countries in general, especially ASEAN.”
Biden’s national security team was pleased that Singapore and other Pacific partners – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – moved quickly enough to hit Russia with sanctions after the invasion.
Lee noted that “the war in Ukraine has implications for the Asia-Pacific region,” an apparent reference to China’s slashing at Taiwan. Concerns were growing even before Russia invaded Ukraine over Beijing’s calculations over Taiwan. Biden administration officials said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been closely monitoring the U.S. and Western reaction to the Russian invasion.
White House officials also said China had offered Moscow military and economic aid in the pursuit of the war.
Any dispute over self-governing island democracy will involve the United States, which is legally bound to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and treats threats to the island as matters of grave concern.
The Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. Biden also made it clear that the United States strongly opposes China’s unilateral efforts to alter the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
“There are potential hot spots and contentious issues in our region that, if left unaddressed, could escalate into open conflict,” Lee said. “Countries with interests in the region must continue all efforts to settle disputes through peaceful means, so that we can avoid reaching a point of no return.”
Singapore, which usually waits for United Nations support before applying sanctions, has imposed restrictions on certain exports and banned financial institutions from doing business with Russian banks.
Biden thanked Lee for making Singapore a reliable ally, saying the island manages to “poke way above your weight.”
Biden was scheduled to host several ASEAN national leaders this week, but the summit was postponed. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore in August, announcing agreements addressing cybersecurity, climate change and supply chain issues.
The president said on Tuesday that he still plans to host the ASEAN summit this spring.
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed reporting.
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