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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden meet June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland.

When enemies aren’t enemies for Biden

After eight months in office, he has sought dialogue with many U.S. adversaries, hoping respect and listening will be reciprocated.

President Joe Biden says the United States is in “extreme” competition with China – even to the point of clashes at sea between their navies. Yet on Thursday he spoke by phone with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the second time they have talked since Mr. Biden took office. The two presidents may finally meet in person this fall at a multilateral summit.

The phone chats fit a pattern for Mr. Biden. He prefers to talk to geopolitical rivals of the U.S., listening to their grievances and interests without necessarily embracing them. Like President Barack Obama, he seems to believe that denying communication with adversaries should not be considered as punishment.

“It’s always better to meet face-to-face,” Mr. Biden said at his first major overseas summit in June with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It’s just pure business.”

Also in June, he offered to reopen negotiations with North Korea “without preconditions.” While the offer was refused, Mr. Biden supports South Korea’s attempts for talks with Pyongyang.

Since coming into office in January, the Biden team has also held five indirect talks with Iran in hopes of reviving a 2015 deal that curbed its nuclear program. (In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact.) Iran has not resumed the indirect talks since Aug. 5 when a hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, took office. Nonetheless, U.S. envoys keep in touch with Iran through other countries, such as Qatar.

The Biden administration’s most unusual high-level negotiation with an adversary came in late August. CIA Director William Burns met secretly with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, Afghanistan. Their talks led to safe evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.

During his decades in the Senate, Mr. Biden showed a patience and a willingness to talk to political opponents. That display of respect helped him build up enough trust to open doors for difficult concessions on legislation.

When adversaries do agree to negotiate with Mr. Biden, he also makes a point to thank them. As scholar Arthur C. Brooks wrote in his 2019 book, “Love Your Enemies,” expressing gratitude for those who disagree with you is a “contempt killer.” It helps separate the actions of adversaries from the persons themselves. Then a dialogue across differences can more easily begin.

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