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Biden Team's Video Of Call With NATO Chief Provides Rare Insight

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden talk during the 51st Munich Security Conference in February 2015.
Christof Stache
AFP via Getty Images
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden talk during the 51st Munich Security Conference in February 2015.

When the president speaks to a world leader, the contents of the call are typically released in a short statement known as a readout. But when President Biden spoke Tuesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the White House instead released a video.

Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the video — the first one of its kind for the team — reflects the importance of the White House's support for NATO and for revitalizing trans-Atlantic relationships, which were frayed during the Trump years.

The edited video conversation is part of a new effort to bring the public closer and share more of Biden's work with foreign leaders. Indeed, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, has tied U.S. foreign policy to the American middle class.

"What Joe Biden is proposing, and what I am reinforcing as the national security adviser, is that every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families, middle-class people, ordinary Americans here in the United States," he told NPR.

In Tuesday's call, Biden pledged U.S. commitment to collective defense — a key facet of NATO membership.

"We've got a mountain of work ahead of us from COVID to climate to tackling the security challenges," Biden told Stoltenberg in the call. "And I intend to rebuild and reestablish our alliances, starting with NATO."

Stoltenberg responded in similar fashion: "It's great to talk to you again," and added that he looked forward to working with Biden.

While the conversation may seem — and is — pretty standard positive fare for two world leaders, it's also a clear shift from Biden's predecessor, President Trump, who repeatedly lambasted NATO members for, in his view, taking advantage of the United States by not meeting their financial obligations to the bloc. Trump also appeared to condition collective defense to NATO members' own defense spending and threatened to pull out of the alliance, the cornerstone of Western security after World War II.

Robert Flaherty, who leads digital strategy at the White House, said seeing and hearing the president affirm NATO's Article 5 mutual-defense commitment in his own voice was powerful.

The White House digital team worked with the NATO communications team on all the details for the video — from camera angles for the recording, editing and posting. That included making sure Biden was shot from the left and Stoltenberg from the right so the exchanged looked more natural.

The White House did the edit, but both sides agreed to the final content, Flaherty said.

He said the team may return to the format again for meetings with small-business owners, front-line workers and other foreign leaders.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.