World Leaders Congratulate Biden on Election Despite Trump Refusal to Concede
European allies who regularly clashed with Trump were among the first to applaud the U.S. president-elect on his victory. Now even the president's closest friends abroad are joining in.
This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.
In the days since news outlets projected former Vice President Joe Biden has won the White House, world leaders have been reaching out to applaud the win—seen as a signal that the United States will be resuming its role as global leader—even as President Donald Trump refused to concede defeat.
European allies who regularly clashed with Trump over defense spending and trade were among some of the first to congratulate President-elect Biden when news of his victory broke on Saturday. French President Emmanuel Macron—whose close relationship with Trump quickly soured—addressed Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, in a tweet, saying: “We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!”
Leaders in Germany, where Trump has approved a major U.S. troop drawdown amid tensions with Chancellor Angela Merkel, were also quick to congratulate the new president-elect. On Monday, Merkel said she has “fond memories” of working with Biden during the Obama administration and looks forward to cooperating with him to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country became the focus of a U.S. impeachment inquiry against Trump after the U.S. president tried to force Kyiv to investigate Biden by withholding military aid, tweeted that he was “optimistic” about the future of ties with Washington after Biden’s win. “Our friendship becomes only stronger!” he wrote.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg—who managed to get alliance members to increase their defense spending amid Trump’s questionable NATO funding claims—also applauded Biden as a “strong supporter of NATO and the transatlantic relationship.” European Council President Charles Michel welcomed the chance to “engage for a strong transatlantic partnership” with Biden, citing multilateralism, climate change, and trade as three key priorities. In Washington, a Reuters reporter snapped a photo of one reveler draped in a NATO flag as celebrations broke out near the White House on Saturday.
Some leaders seen as Trump allies also offered congratulations to the president-elect. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Brexit champion whose government will negotiate a new trade deal with the future Biden administration, sent his congratulations on Twitter and cited climate change, trade, and security as key priorities. Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has drawn criticism for new political restrictions seen as moving the country toward autocracy, said he was “determined to upkeep high-level and high-quality” relations. The Trump administration inked deals to move thousands more U.S. troops to Poland after announcing a planned withdrawal of forces from Germany, a decision that could potentially be overturned by Biden.
Major U.S. allies outside of Europe also had praise for the incoming administration. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded Harris—the first woman and Black and South Asian American elected vice president—for her “pathbreaking” success for Indian Americans. “I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership,” he wrote.
Several world leaders who expressed support for Trump’s reelection before the vote did not initially issue public congratulations for Biden. The small European country of Slovenia may be in an awkward position, as its prime minister, Janez Jansa, appeared to be the only world leader to incorrectly call the race for Trump earlier in the week, bashing Biden and lavishing praise on the U.S. president — forcing another senior Slovenian official appeared to try to clean up the mess on Saturday.
But some leaders who expressed support for Trump’s reelection appear to be coming around. On Sunday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended his “warm congratulations” through a spokesperson, noting that he hoped to work with Biden on “democracy, freedom, and the rule of law”—principles Duterte is known for undercutting at home. In a letter, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban—who had recently accused the Democratic Party of “moral imperialism”—wished the president-elect “good health and continued success in performing your exceedingly responsible duties.”
Some Trump allies in the Middle East also relented. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations for Biden and Harris, addressing the President-elect directly: “Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel,” he wrote—papering over tensions between Netanyahu and Barack Obama during his eight years in the White House. But Netanyahu, who has a close personal relationship with Trump, also thanked the outgoing president for “bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”
Another country that enjoyed cozy relations with the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, also congratulated Biden in a cable sent on Saturday, according to the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been a close ally of Trump’s and is expected to come under closer scrutiny for human rights abuses by the new administration.
Others remain notably silent. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has refrained from issuing statements on the U.S. election over the past week, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he would not congratulate Biden until the Trump campaign’s legal challenges were resolved, drawing criticism from top lawmakers.
Though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has yet to comment on the U.S. election, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay seemed to indicate that he would go along with its results. In an interview with Turkish broadcaster Kanal 7 on Sunday, Oktay said “nothing will change for Turkey” with a new U.S. administration, and he committed himself to pressing Biden to cut support for Kurdish groups in northern Syria. Biden and Erdogan have a history of exchanging jabs: After Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” in 2019, he was caught on a hot mic calling for leadership changes in Turkey. Erdogan blasted Biden as an “interventionist.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin—whom Trump has praised with effusive language throughout the course of his tenure—has not yet issued remarks on the election, a stark departure from 2016, when he congratulated Trump within hours of his victory. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also stayed quiet. While Kim has exchanged gushing “love letters” with Trump, there’s no love lost between him and Biden—who called him a “thug” in the second presidential debate.
China has doubled down on its insistence to remain quiet on the U.S. election. On Monday, a foreign ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, saying China would act in “accordance with international law.”
Update, Nov. 9, 2020: This article was updated to include statements and reactions from more world leaders.
Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer