Ambassador to US: Biden concentrated on unity and democracy in speech

Jonatan Vseviov.
Jonatan Vseviov. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonian Ambassador to the United States of America Jonatan Vseviov says in an interview to ERR that the inauguration ceremony of the 46th President of the United States Joe Biden went smoothly and without incident. Vseviov says that Biden's speech concentrated on the need to find common ground and defense of democracy.

How went the inauguration ceremony of Joe Biden in Washington D.C.?

It was very nice. The sun came out half-way into the ceremony. The weather was very cold, while something resembling snow made it seem the event ended in another country. Symbolically speaking of course. But I believe the event was heartfelt. Joe Biden's speech was very fitting. The other ambassadors and I agreed that the speech emphasized the things that need emphasizing these days. The inauguration was very nice.

Were you present for the ceremony?

Yes, we were there. While the event usually draws huge crowds, the pandemic meant there were fewer people this time. There were virtually no spectators. The National Mall landscape park between the Capitol and the Lincoln Monument where crowds usually gather was empty. Not a soul in sight. However, chairs for guests were set up in front of the Capitol stairs. Members of Congress had their own section and ambassadors theirs. We were relatively close and saw the event with our own eyes.

The security situation was another factor that limited participation, next to the pandemic. Where there any incidents?

No. There was nothing of the sort close to where we were. Security is always tight at such major events in the USA and this time was no exception. Security was perhaps a little tighter than usual following the January 6 events. However, the event went ahead without a hitch from where we sat. There were no incidents to report. The security measures in Washington are enough to prevent any threat. It also seems to me that nothing of concern happened in the vicinity.

Security personnel numbered in the thousands. There were 25,000 national guardsmen guarding the Capitol. Does it seem like overkill now or was the security measure justified?

It was definitely an important measure, while we know that people tend to react to past events. The events on January 6 took place and security was surely tightened in this light. However, there is nothing unusual about it in the grand scheme of things. I also believe that Washington D.C. that has looked a little different in the runup to the inauguration will soon return to its old self. The National Guard will go home and the situation will normalize.

None of it is especially out of the ordinary. Next to national guardsmen, there are myriad agencies in charge of security, from the U.S. Secret Service to the local police. We did not just see the National Guard, even though they tend to stand out more because they wear military uniforms. The National Guard has been used to provide security at such events in the past.

What made the ceremony special?

What mattered at this event and has mattered at all inauguration ceremonies was to symbolize the peaceful transition of power irrespective of whether the election favored your candidate or not. There are principles that tower above that.

What impression did you get from Joe Biden's speech?

He emphasized the latter point – the need to come together, unite as a society and nation and rise to the challenges America and the whole world are facing. And the need to defend the truth, defend democracy as the most important thing. But the motif of unity, the message that he will be a president also for those who did not vote for him lied at the center of Biden's speech. It seems the speech was received quite graciously.

Of course, Biden asked his opponents to give him a chance to prove himself and said it is fine if they do not turn into his supporters after that. It is normal in a democracy, while the latter and the fact that we are all citizens of the same country is what we need to hold on to, the president said. I believe that message was especially significant in light of the January 6 events, while it was also very meaningful.

What was the reaction to Donald Trump not showing up for the inauguration that obviously did not come as a surprise but would have probably contributed to restoring unity?

While it probably would have helped, it had been clear for some time he would likely not attend. Vice President Pence was there. I believe people were not preoccupied with it anymore. While I do not know a single such precedent from the past, we have seen other unprecedented things recently.

What will the first 100 days of the Biden administration look like?

One of the most important things for any administration is manning key positions. While the president can appoint White House officials himself, he will need the Senate's approval to appoint ministers and other key public servants. The Senate has already launched hearings to find secretary of state and the defense secretary candidates. I believe that initial efforts will concentrate on putting together Biden's team.

Joe Biden has also said he plans to take a series of legal steps that only the president can take – executive decisions in our context. We will likely see many of those today. He will be doing things he can do without amending legislation or going through other complicated procedures.

His number one priority, as emphasized during Biden's campaign and after winning the election, is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control. I believe that a lot of his actions will center around that. Next come matters pertaining to climate change. Returning to a more traditional approach to international matters etc. These main priorities will characterize the first 100 days.

What about Estonia-U.S. relations?

They will continue along the same lines. Estonia-U.S. relations have always gone beyond different governments in Estonia. They are based on shared values and strategic interests that bind us. And nothing will change in those terms. Nothing changed four years ago nor will today. Our efforts are still aimed at tying America to our regional security as closely as possible. To have maximally broad and close cooperation with the U.S. administration and the American society in general, including the Congress and think tanks.

Nothing will change from our end in that sense. A new government could bring a new style and priorities that could translate into new avenues for cooperation. But nothing will change in terms of the big picture. We have our work laid out before us.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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