COVID-19, taxes, Iran nuclear deal on Biden’s Day 1 agenda

October 30, 2021
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi greets President Joe Biden as he arrives for the G-20 Summit of world leaders in Rome.

ROME – President Joe Biden and leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest nations on Saturday backed a 15% global minimum corporate tax, a dramatic restructuring of the international tax system that is intended to make sure big companies pay their fair share.

Finance ministers of almost 140 countries had already backed the tax change. Biden and other leaders of the Group of 20, or G-20, came out in support of the tax during the opening session of their first in-person summit in two years.

“We reached a historic agreement for a fairer and more equitable tax system,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced during his opening remarks.

A formal endorsement of the tax restructuring is expected to come in a joint communiqué on Sunday.

The G-20’s support of the international tax package amounted to a victory of sorts for Biden, who is pushing Congress to pass a 15% minimum tax on corporate earnings to help pay for one of his key domestic plans – an ambitious package of climate change and social safety proposals.

“This deal will remake the global economy into a more prosperous place for American business & workers,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, one of the biggest advocates of the tax plan, tweeted on Saturday. “Rather than competing on our ability to offer lower rates, America will now compete on the skills of our people, our ideas & our capacity to innovate – which is a race we can win.”

Global health concerns also were on the agenda for the G-20 leaders, who convened in a modernist, cloud-shaped convention center in Rome.

The G-20 is exploring ways to prevent another pandemic like COVID-19, which has killed nearly 5 million people worldwide, including more than 743,000 Americans.

In his opening remarks, Draghi called for wealthy nations to speed up the distribution of vaccines to poor countries. Only 3% of people who live in the poorest countries have been vaccinated, while 70% of people who live in wealthy countries have gotten at least one shot.

The disparity is “morally unacceptable,” he said.

More:Biden looks to ease tensions with Europe, tackle climate change at global summits

Also Saturday, Biden met on the sidelines with three European allies – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – to chart a path forward on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The four leaders posed for a group photo before they went behind closed doors for their consultations.

Biden’s advisers have been trying to revive a 2015 agreement that limited Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels. Then-President Donald Trump withdrew from agreement in 2018.

Asked by reporters when he wanted the talks to resume, Biden said, “They’re scheduled to resume.” He did not provide any details.

Later, the four leaders issued a joint statement expressing their determination to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon and their growing concern that, while Iran halted the negotiations in June, it has accelerated the pace of “provocative nuclear steps,” such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal.

“Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programs,” the statement said.

The allies called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi “to seize this opportunity and return to a good faith effort to conclude our negotiations as a matter of urgency.”

The meeting came days after Ali Bagheri, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator for the talks, tweeted that Iran has agreed to restart negotiations by the end of November and a date for a resumption of talks “would be announced in the course of the next week.”

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday the U.S. was still trying to determine whether Iran was serious about the negotiations.

Ahead of the summit, Biden held separate meetings in Rome on Friday with Pope Francis and Macron.

On Monday, Biden will travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for a U.N. Climate Change Conference known as COP26. Biden has made climate change a key priority of his administration and is expected to speak during the conference’s opening session.

More:Biden says Pope Francis OK’d him receiving communion, calling him a ‘good Catholic’ amid abortion debate

More:In meeting with France’s Macron, Biden says U.S. was ‘clumsy’ handling nuclear submarine deal

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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