- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2022

He took an unexplained pass on Tuesday’s final festivities at the G-20 summit, but President Biden still had a very busy day diplomatically as the Group of 20 summit of the world’s leading developed and developing nations wound down in Bali, Indonesia.

Mr. Biden unexpectedly skipped the gala leaders’ dinner, returning to his hotel room for the evening. It is unclear why Mr. Biden decided on the last-minute change to his schedule, which came at the end of a full day of meetings.

Before that, however, Mr. Biden had a series of top-level meetings, including talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he pressed for a strong statement condemning G-20 member Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the urging of Mr. Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the G-20 leaders reportedly were close to the approval of a declaration condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A draft declaration was adopted by the leaders and a possible vote could come Wednesday, the final day of the summit.

If adopted, the declaration would be a stinging rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who decided to skip the summit. It would also be an unexpected display of unity for the other members of the G-20, who have fractured on several issues, including the war in Ukraine because some nations have deep economic ties to Moscow.

It is unclear if China, which has adopted a position of neutrality since the war began, will sign on to the document.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, is attending the summit, but has not publicly commented on the declaration.

Also Tuesday, Mr. Biden held an unannounced meeting with Mr. Erdogan amid strained relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

On Sunday, a bomb attack on a bustling pedestrian street in Istanbul killed six people and wounded scores more. Turkish authorities have blamed the attack on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK and Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. Those groups have denied involvement.

Although Washington has labeled the PKK a terrorist group, it has disputed Turkey’s depiction of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have aligned with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, better known as ISIS, in Syria.

U.S. support for the Kurdish military in Syria has been a sore spot in U.S.-Turkey relations. Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Monday that he rejects messages of condolences from Washington, saying such sympathy is akin to “the murderer returning to the crime scene.”

Still, a White House readout of the Erdogan meeting said Mr. Biden made it clear to his Turkish counterpart that the U.S. stands with its NATO ally.

It wasn’t high diplomacy, but Mr. Biden‘s decision to skip the ceremonial dinner, a symbolic centerpiece of the summit, raised some eyebrows.

A White House official stressed that Mr. Biden does not have COVID-19, but offered little explanation for the sudden move. The official said the 79-year-old president had spent a full day in meetings and needed to attend to a few things, but did not elaborate beyond stressing that there was “nothing urgent” that commanded Mr. Biden‘s attention.

The official added that Mr. Biden is expected to resume his normal schedule on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden is among a handful of world leaders who met over the weekend with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. The Cambodian leader had also attended the G-20 meeting but returned home after testing positive for COVID-19.

The U.S. and Cambodian leaders spent some time together Saturday and were at a joint meeting, though not seated together, on Sunday.

The White House said Mr. Biden tested negative Tuesday morning for COVID-19 and is not considered a close contact as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mr. Biden has had several COVID-19 booster shots.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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