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Biden announces agreements with China on fentanyl and resuming military talks

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden met for four hours yesterday with China's leader Xi Jinping.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. The goal was to stabilize a complicated relationship that has been especially tense over the past year. And afterwards, President Biden held a wide-ranging news conference.

MARTIN: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith was there, and she is with us now from San Francisco to tell us about it. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So first of all, were there any significant agreements that came out of these talks?

KEITH: Well, the main development was on the synthetic opioid fentanyl. And Biden said that Xi agreed to take steps to significantly reduce the flow of precursor ingredients that are used to make fentanyl, many of which come from China. And Biden was quite passionate about this, saying that he knew families who had lost loved ones to the deadly street drug fentanyl. A senior official who briefed us after the meeting said they really have to see whether China follows through on this and whether these efforts will succeed at getting the precursor ingredients - whether that will disrupt the fentanyl trade, as they hope it does.

Another development was on restarting military-to-military communications. This has been closed off for some time now between the two countries, and there will be steps to resume that line of communication. And the importance of this is that there have been some close calls between U.S. and Chinese military vessels, and they're hoping to avoid that in the future or avoid that tipping into conflict. Biden said that he and Xi also agreed to have more communication between each other when there are problems.

MARTIN: Well, speaking about, you know, the two of them together, you had a chance to see the two of them together 'cause you were in the room at the start with, you know, what reporters would call a spray. You saw them together. How did they seem?

KEITH: Well, they've known each other for a long time, but they also haven't talked for a year. They sat across from each other. And Biden's team, according to a senior official, made a real effort to rekindle the familiarity between them. For instance, Biden and Xi's wife share a birthday. It's next week. Biden reminded Xi about the shared birthday. Biden later told us that he brought a photo of Xi from when the leader last visited San Francisco as a young man and showed it to him.

But in terms of the business of the meeting, Biden said that it was very direct, even blunt conversation. And as I said, they did agree that in the future, they will pick up the phone and call each other, which is something that has not happened in a year.

MARTIN: And I want to mention that the press conference did not just focus on China. The president has taken a very strong pro-Israel position. I was just wondering if he talked about that last night. What did he say?

KEITH: Yeah, he continued that strong position. He did talk a lot about the Israeli military operation at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and he made it clear that he believes that Hamas is using the hospital as a base for weapons and fighters. But, you know, he was asked how long he thought this wrenching conflict would last.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So it's - but I can't tell. I'm not a fortuneteller. I can't tell you how long it's going to last. But I can tell you I don't think it ultimately ends until there's a two-state solution. I've made it clear to the Israelis I think it's a big mistake for them to think they're going to occupy Gaza and maintain Gaza. I don't think that works.

KEITH: All along, Biden has had a strategy of publicly standing with Israel and privately delivering tough advice. We got a little hint of that private advice.

MARTIN: Any update on the hostages?

KEITH: He said he's mildly hopeful.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is co-host of Morning Edition, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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