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The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict Kicked Up Anti-Muslim Bias In A Surprising Place: India

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Marwa Fatafta’s Twitter mentions were flooded.

As violence escalated in Israel–Palestine earlier this month, Fatafta, who is Palestinian and works as a policy analyst for an online think tank focusing on Palestinian human rights in Berlin, had been posting pictures and stories about families killed in the Gaza Strip to her 14,000 followers. In response, she was being trolled. Some of the hate speech, which called Palestinians like her “terrorists,” came from far-right Israeli accounts. But many seemed to be from India — Fatafta said that they had Indian names and the Indian flag in their usernames.

“It seemed like all these ethno-nationalists from India and Israel coming together,” Fatafta told BuzzFeed News. “It was a fascinating phenomenon. I haven’t been trolled by people from India before.”

As deadly violence in which the Israeli military killed 248 Palestinians and Hamas killed 13 Israelis was ended by cease-fire, hate speech against Jews online has risen, as has antisemitic violence.

But the conflict has also stoked an online wave of hate speech and misinformation against Muslims around the world. A full-page ad in the New York Times accused pop star Dua Lipa and models Gigi and Bella Hadid of antisemitism. Last week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, ran Facebook ads that superimposed Rep. Ilhan Omar’s face onto Hamas rockets, with the factually inaccurate caption: “When Israel targets Hamas, Rep. Omar calls it an act of terrorism.” Israel’s official Arabic-language Twitter account angered Muslims by tweeting verses from the Qur’an along with an image of an Israeli air strike on Gaza (that tweet has since been deleted).

That conflict in the Middle East could set off waves of hate and lies against Muslims is not new. But what is novel is the source: India. In the world’s largest democracy, anti-Muslim hate has steadily become mainstream, both online and offline. Just a year ago, politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party as well as dozens of news channels accused a gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat, an international Islamic missionary group, of deliberately spreading the coronavirus in India after more than 4,000 cases were linked to it. At the time, #CoronaJihad was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in the region.

On Saturday, First Draft News, a UK-based nonprofit that researches misinformation, published an analysis of more than 300,000 tweets relating to the Israeli–Palestinian crisis. They found a campaign containing thousands of tweets and hashtags that appeared to have been created in India, one of Twitter’s key markets.

“While analyzing the tweets, we noticed that the top hashtags always had some Indian references,” Carlotta Dotto, senior data journalist at First Draft, told BuzzFeed News. “It was striking.”

Dotto focused on #UnitedAgainstJehad, an intentionally misspelled hashtag that was mentioned more than 40,000 times by nearly 6,000 accounts between May 12 and May 17. The analysis showed that the hashtag was at the heart of a coordinated campaign aimed at getting it to trend, accompanied by tropes about Muslims that Indian Hindu nationalists have spouted for years — such as love jihad, a baseless conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage. Ten percent of the accounts using the hashtag were created in May.

“It was clear that they were using the Israel–Palestine conflict to promote their own narratives on Twitter in India and around the world given the amount of attention that it was getting online,” Dotto said.

Although India had previously tended to avoid becoming involved in the region, relations between India and Israel improved dramatically under Modi, who became the first Indian prime minister to visit the country in 2017. In part that’s because the leaders of both countries are conservative nationalists. In addition, right-wingers in India draw on their country’s long-standing rivalry with neighboring Pakistan.

“India’s right wing finds Israel fascinating for multiple reasons,” Jency Jacob, managing editor at Boom, a leading Indian fact-checking organization, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s a small country surrounded by Muslim neighbors that’s battling it out, it has a strong leader who is focused on protecting its borders.”

“Whenever there is tension between an Islamic country and any other country, the far-right ecosystem gravitates towards whoever is on the non-Muslim side,” Jacob added. “For them, it’s a natural aggression that brings out all their prejudices about Muslims in general.”

Members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters have seized on the conflict. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, a BJP spokesperson, called Islam a “Virus” that was “generating Terrorism in the world” and said, “Israel is Vaccine of this Virus, please support Israel.” He also claimed that Muslims believe “Religion is Bigger than Nation.” Each of Bagga’s tweets got thousands of retweets and likes. Hundreds of messages vilifying Muslims were also forwarded through WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app used by hundreds of millions of Indians.

“Checked most of the #IndiaStandWithIsrael tweet handles,” tweeted Rana Ayyub, a high-profile Indian journalist frequently targeted by far-right Modi supporters. “A common thread that runs through is a visceral hatred for Muslims and a bloodlust to see Muslims massacred and shown their place.”

As watchdogs within Israel struggled to keep up with the glut of hate and lies, their counterparts outside the country weren’t having it easy either. Boom, for instance, has fact-checked nearly two dozen stories, some of which painted Palestinians as faking their distress.

“It’s become one of our big topics,” Jacob told BuzzFeed News.

One of the pieces of misinformation falsely portrayed a mock funeral organized in 2020 by young Jordanians to evade the coronavirus lockdown as Palestinians faking a funeral for “international sympathy.” Another viral clip tried to pass off a 2017 news report about Palestinian makeup artists as Palestinian residents faking injuries during the current conflict.

“Repression is transnational,” Fatafta said. “Islamophobia is the common denominator here.”

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Trump’s State Department Officials Fought Over Whether The Coronavirus Was A Chinese Bioweapon

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In the final days of the Trump administration, the State Department was embroiled in a bitter dispute over China’s role in the origins of COVID-19 that’s now spilling into public view.

In an open letter posted on Medium on Thursday, Christopher Ford, former Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, said he intervened to prevent the US government from “embarrassing and discrediting” itself by accusing China of having deliberately engineered the coronavirus — despite there being no evidence to make that case.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Ford said his colleagues were pushing to include allegations that China had breached the international Biological Weapons Convention in a State Department report to Congress, which could have set off a diplomatic crisis with one of the US’s chief global rivals.

It is highly unusual for a former senior State Department official to publish a personal account of recent internal disputes. But Ford’s open letter comes in the midst of an acrimonious debate over the so-called “lab leak” hypothesis for the emergence of COVID-19. The most extreme version of this theory suggests that Chinese scientists engineered SARS-CoV-2 as a bioweapon.

Sourcing his account to emails put into the public domain through reporting by Fox News and Vanity Fair, Ford’s Medium post detailed his increasingly fraught relationship with David Asher, a contractor in the State Department who was running its investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and Thomas DiNanno, former acting head of the department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC). According to Vanity Fair, Asher and DiNanno viewed Ford as pushing a preconceived conclusion that the virus had a natural origin.

In the Medium post, Ford said that DiNanno signaled that the investigation was focusing on “China allegedly having violated the Biological Weapons Convention by creating the virus.” He added: “They seemed to believe that COVID-19 was a biological weapons (BW) effort gone awry — or perhaps even a BW agent deliberately unleashed upon the world.”

“They clearly appeared to be coming at this from a biological weapons angle,” Ford told BuzzFeed News. “They got squirrelly if you pushed back on whether there was evidence to support a biological weaponry finding over the coronavirus, but they seemed to be trying to build a case.”

Ford also told BuzzFeed News that Asher and DiNanno wanted to include the claim that China had breached the Biological Weapons Convention in an annual report prepared for Congress by the State Department. The report, mandated by US law, details nations’ compliance with international agreements on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament.

“Their legal arguments sounded pretty weak to me. They never presented evidence of actual [bioweapons] work,” Ford said, adding that his colleagues were also arguing that China should have been found in breach of the Biological Weapons Convention for failing to fully answer questions about the COVID-19 crisis.

In his open letter, Ford also alleged that Miles Yu, a military historian and specialist on China policy, had told DiNanno that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted to keep the department’s bioweapons experts and the intelligence community out of the loop of the department’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Since the Spring of 2020, Trump and Pompeo had claimed to have evidence that the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China.

Yu denied the claim that Pompeo had sought to keep experts from reviewing the investigation. “AVC’s inquiry was by no means a rogue and hush-hush operation—it cooperated with our national science labs, world renowned scientists of serious but different opinions, and several key agencies of the intelligence community,” Yu told BuzzFeed News by email. “Chris Ford is spinning a narrative contrary to facts to cover up his extreme hostility toward any worthy science-based inquiry supported and encouraged by Secretary Pompeo.

Asher also disputed Ford’s account. “I was shocked that Ford didn’t have an investigation going on when I arrived and set about trying to get to the bottom of possible Chinese violations of the [Biological Weapons Convention]. Work that should be continuing in AVC,” he said by email.

DiNanno did not answer questions from BuzzFeed News, referring us to his account in the Vanity Fair article.

The debate over the origins of the virus has intensified since late March, when a joint WHO-China report came up empty-handed yet judged a lab leak as “extremely unlikely.” This prompted the US and 13 other governments to issue a statement calling for “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence.”

On May 26, President Joe Biden revealed he had ordered a 90-day intelligence review probing two scenarios: whether the coronavirus spread naturally from animals to people, or was released in a lab accident. And in a call with a senior Chinese official on Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pressed China to allow more studies by WHO experts into the origins of the coronavirus.

Leading scientists have also recently called for a deeper investigation into the origins of COVID-19, writing in the journal Science that “the two theories were not given balanced consideration” in the WHO-China study.

Ford is a conservative with a record of being hawkish on the threats posed to the US by China. What triggered his open letter was that his former colleagues had, in his view, mischaracterized him as being inherently opposed to the idea that the coronavirus may have escaped from a lab.

“I strongly supported looking into the ‘lab-leak’ hypothesis, which clearly is a real possibility,” Ford wrote in his Medium post. “But I’m not just saying this now. I said it at the time, too. A lot.”

The lab leak hypothesis isn’t a single unified theory, but rather a constellation of ideas around the origins of COVID-19.

Given a history of slip-ups at virology labs around the world, and a lack of full transparency from China, many scientists accept that there is no way to rule out the possibility that the virus was collected from wild animals and released from a lab in Wuhan by accident. Global attention has focused on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where a team led by Shi Zhengli has catalogued potentially dangerous coronaviruses found in bats.

More elaborate versions of the theory suppose that scientists at the WIV or another lab in the city were engaged in well-intentioned but risky “gain-of-function” experiments, genetically modifying a bat coronavirus to study the changes that would make it more likely to infect people.

Suspicion has fallen on Shi, because she had earlier collaborated on related experiments run by Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Baric’s team spliced the spike protein from one of Shi’s bat coronaviruses, which it uses to latch onto the cells it infects, into another coronavirus that had been adapted to infect mice.

Shi has denied running any similar gain-of-function experiments since that research was published in 2015. But secrecy surrounding research at the WIV and other labs means that speculation about this possibility continues.

The most extreme idea, regarded as a conspiracy theory by most experts, is that Chinese military scientists deliberately engineered SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as a bioweapon.

In his Medium post, Ford accuses DiNanno of “dragging his feet” over getting the bioweapon claims vetted by the intelligence community and scientific experts. But on January 7 this year, an online meeting involving scientists including Baric and David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University who has repeatedly argued that the lab leak theory deserves thorough investigation, was convened by the State Department to review the evidence.

They heard from Steven Quay, CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Atossa Therapeutics, who had conducted a statistical analysis that claimed “beyond reasonable doubt” that SARS-CoV-2 was derived in a lab. According to Vanity Fair, Quay’s presentation was criticized by Baric, who noted that they ignored the multitude of bat coronaviruses that remain unknown to science.

In a summary of the meeting Ford sent to State Department colleagues the next day, he wrote: “[H]is statistical analysis is crippled by the fact that we have essentially no data to support key model inputs. Critically, we have no data on the vast majority of bat coronaviruses that exist in the wild.” Ford left the State Department the same day, after having previously announced his intention to step down.

DiNanno later responded: “On the contrary, we don’t need to know every bat coronavirus genome to understand the likelihood of a zoonotic [natural] vs. lab origin. We merely need to reliably estimate the number of bat coronaviruses there are, and factor this into our weighting of our present knowledge about bat coronaviruses.”

Baric and Relman did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Quay defended his statistical analysis, saying it has been viewed online over 160,000 times. “I have received no substantive criticism of my work,” he said. “My sense of the meeting was that they were trying as much as possible to simply dismiss me so they could write their report and move on to something else.”

On January 15, Pompeo’s State Department released a “fact sheet” on activities at the WIV, which criticized China’s secrecy around COVID-19.

Instead, it stated, based on intelligence reports, that the US government “has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

The fact sheet also repeated longstanding US concerns about China’s transparency on its past research on bioweapons: “For many years the United States has publicly raised concerns about China’s past biological weapons work, which Beijing has neither documented nor demonstrably eliminated, despite its clear obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.” And it said the WIV had collaborated on classified research on behalf of the Chinese military since 2017.

But the statement did not make the claim that SARS-CoV-2 was the product of Chinese bioweapons research.

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Trump’s State Department Officials Fought Over Whether The Coronavirus Was A Chinese Bioweapon

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In the final days of the Trump administration, the State Department was embroiled in a bitter dispute over China’s role in the origins of COVID-19 that’s now spilling into public view.

In an open letter posted on Medium on Thursday, Christopher Ford, former Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, said he intervened to prevent the US government from “embarrassing and discrediting” itself by accusing China of having deliberately engineered the coronavirus — despite there being no evidence to make that case.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Ford said his colleagues were pushing to include allegations that China had breached the international Biological Weapons Convention in a State Department report to Congress, which could have set off a diplomatic crisis with one of the US’s chief global rivals.

It is highly unusual for a former senior State Department official to publish a personal account of recent internal disputes. But Ford’s open letter comes in the midst of an acrimonious debate over the so-called “lab leak” hypothesis for the emergence of COVID-19. The most extreme version of this theory suggests that Chinese scientists engineered SARS-CoV-2 as a bioweapon.

Sourcing his account to emails put into the public domain through reporting by Fox News and Vanity Fair, Ford’s Medium post detailed his increasingly fraught relationship with David Asher, a contractor in the State Department who was running its investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and Thomas DiNanno, former acting head of the department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC). According to Vanity Fair, Asher and DiNanno viewed Ford as pushing a preconceived conclusion that the virus had a natural origin.

In the Medium post, Ford said that DiNanno signaled that the investigation was focusing on “China allegedly having violated the Biological Weapons Convention by creating the virus.” He added: “They seemed to believe that COVID-19 was a biological weapons (BW) effort gone awry — or perhaps even a BW agent deliberately unleashed upon the world.”

“They clearly appeared to be coming at this from a biological weapons angle,” Ford told BuzzFeed News. “They got squirrelly if you pushed back on whether there was evidence to support a biological weaponry finding over the coronavirus, but they seemed to be trying to build a case.”

Ford also told BuzzFeed News that Asher and DiNanno wanted to include the claim that China had breached the Biological Weapons Convention in an annual report prepared for Congress by the State Department. The report, mandated by US law, details nations’ compliance with international agreements on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament.

“Their legal arguments sounded pretty weak to me. They never presented evidence of actual [bioweapons] work,” Ford said, adding that his colleagues were also arguing that China should have been found in breach of the Biological Weapons Convention for failing to fully answer questions about the COVID-19 crisis.

In his open letter, Ford also alleged that Miles Yu, a military historian and specialist on China policy, had told DiNanno that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted to keep the department’s bioweapons experts and the intelligence community out of the loop of the department’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Since the Spring of 2020, Trump and Pompeo had claimed to have evidence that the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China.

Yu denied the claim that Pompeo had sought to keep experts from reviewing the investigation. “AVC’s inquiry was by no means a rogue and hush-hush operation—it cooperated with our national science labs, world renowned scientists of serious but different opinions, and several key agencies of the intelligence community,” Yu told BuzzFeed News by email. “Chris Ford is spinning a narrative contrary to facts to cover up his extreme hostility toward any worthy science-based inquiry supported and encouraged by Secretary Pompeo.

Asher also disputed Ford’s account. “I was shocked that Ford didn’t have an investigation going on when I arrived and set about trying to get to the bottom of possible Chinese violations of the [Biological Weapons Convention]. Work that should be continuing in AVC,” he said by email.

DiNanno did not answer questions from BuzzFeed News, referring us to his account in the Vanity Fair article.

The debate over the origins of the virus has intensified since late March, when a joint WHO-China report came up empty-handed yet judged a lab leak as “extremely unlikely.” This prompted the US and 13 other governments to issue a statement calling for “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence.”

On May 26, President Joe Biden revealed he had ordered a 90-day intelligence review probing two scenarios: whether the coronavirus spread naturally from animals to people, or was released in a lab accident. And in a call with a senior Chinese official on Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pressed China to allow more studies by WHO experts into the origins of the coronavirus.

Leading scientists have also recently called for a deeper investigation into the origins of COVID-19, writing in the journal Science that “the two theories were not given balanced consideration” in the WHO-China study.

Ford is a conservative with a record of being hawkish on the threats posed to the US by China. What triggered his open letter was that his former colleagues had, in his view, mischaracterized him as being inherently opposed to the idea that the coronavirus may have escaped from a lab.

“I strongly supported looking into the ‘lab-leak’ hypothesis, which clearly is a real possibility,” Ford wrote in his Medium post. “But I’m not just saying this now. I said it at the time, too. A lot.”

The lab leak hypothesis isn’t a single unified theory, but rather a constellation of ideas around the origins of COVID-19.

Given a history of slip-ups at virology labs around the world, and a lack of full transparency from China, many scientists accept that there is no way to rule out the possibility that the virus was collected from wild animals and released from a lab in Wuhan by accident. Global attention has focused on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where a team led by Shi Zhengli has catalogued potentially dangerous coronaviruses found in bats.

More elaborate versions of the theory suppose that scientists at the WIV or another lab in the city were engaged in well-intentioned but risky “gain-of-function” experiments, genetically modifying a bat coronavirus to study the changes that would make it more likely to infect people.

Suspicion has fallen on Shi, because she had earlier collaborated on related experiments run by Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Baric’s team spliced the spike protein from one of Shi’s bat coronaviruses, which it uses to latch onto the cells it infects, into another coronavirus that had been adapted to infect mice.

Shi has denied running any similar gain-of-function experiments since that research was published in 2015. But secrecy surrounding research at the WIV and other labs means that speculation about this possibility continues.

The most extreme idea, regarded as a conspiracy theory by most experts, is that Chinese military scientists deliberately engineered SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as a bioweapon.

In his Medium post, Ford accuses DiNanno of “dragging his feet” over getting the bioweapon claims vetted by the intelligence community and scientific experts. But on January 7 this year, an online meeting involving scientists including Baric and David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University who has repeatedly argued that the lab leak theory deserves thorough investigation, was convened by the State Department to review the evidence.

They heard from Steven Quay, CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Atossa Therapeutics, who had conducted a statistical analysis that claimed “beyond reasonable doubt” that SARS-CoV-2 was derived in a lab. According to Vanity Fair, Quay’s presentation was criticized by Baric, who noted that they ignored the multitude of bat coronaviruses that remain unknown to science.

In a summary of the meeting Ford sent to State Department colleagues the next day, he wrote: “[H]is statistical analysis is crippled by the fact that we have essentially no data to support key model inputs. Critically, we have no data on the vast majority of bat coronaviruses that exist in the wild.” Ford left the State Department the same day, after having previously announced his intention to step down.

DiNanno later responded: “On the contrary, we don’t need to know every bat coronavirus genome to understand the likelihood of a zoonotic [natural] vs. lab origin. We merely need to reliably estimate the number of bat coronaviruses there are, and factor this into our weighting of our present knowledge about bat coronaviruses.”

Baric and Relman did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Quay defended his statistical analysis, saying it has been viewed online over 160,000 times. “I have received no substantive criticism of my work,” he said. “My sense of the meeting was that they were trying as much as possible to simply dismiss me so they could write their report and move on to something else.”

On January 15, Pompeo’s State Department released a “fact sheet” on activities at the WIV, which criticized China’s secrecy around COVID-19.

Instead, it stated, based on intelligence reports, that the US government “has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

The fact sheet also repeated longstanding US concerns about China’s transparency on its past research on bioweapons: “For many years the United States has publicly raised concerns about China’s past biological weapons work, which Beijing has neither documented nor demonstrably eliminated, despite its clear obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.” And it said the WIV had collaborated on classified research on behalf of the Chinese military since 2017.

But the statement did not make the claim that SARS-CoV-2 was the product of Chinese bioweapons research.

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Joe Biden Has Had His First Meeting With Queen Elizabeth As President

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Jack Hill / AP

President Joe Biden met with Queen Elizabeth II in England on Friday — the first time he has encountered the British sovereign as commander in chief.

The president, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, were photographed chatting with the Queen at an event for heads of state attending the G7 summit in Cornwall.

Photos showed the Queen — wearing pearls, white gloves, and a floral dress — smiling warmly as she spoke with the first lady outside a giant dome at an eco-park known as the Eden Project, where the leaders had gathered for an evening reception.

Biden is the 13th US president to meet with the Queen, whose reign began in 1953.


/ AP

Queen Elizabeth II and President John F. Kennedy as they pose at Buckingham Palace in London in 1961.

The 95-year-old monarch has met with every US leader during her time on the throne, except for Lyndon Johnson.

Her first meeting as queen was with Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, the same year she met Herbert Hoover more than two decades after he left the White House. In 1951, while she was still a princess, she also met Harry Truman.

Biden had previously met the queen in 1982 when he was a US senator.


Bob Daugherty / AP

President Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II go horseback riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle, England, in 1982.

Friday’s meeting comes just two months after the queen lost her husband, Prince Philip, who died on April 9 at age 99.

Also present at the G7 event from the British royal family were Prince Charles; Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge; and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

In photos, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be seen chatting with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Prince Charles.


Jack Hill – WPA Pool / Getty Images

Friday was the first full day of talks at the summit, with Johnson telling those present it was an opportunity to “level up across our societies” and “build back better” after the coronavirus pandemic.

He also said leaders needed to address issues of economic inequality as well as climate change.

“I actually think that we have a huge opportunity to that because, as G7, we are united in our vision for a cleaner, greener world, a solution to the problems of climate change,” he added.

Before the evening reception, the Queen joined Biden and other world leaders for a group photo, where she made them laugh by asking, “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

“Yes,” Johnson replied. “We have been enjoying ourselves in spite of appearances.”

The Bidens are due to visit Windsor Castle for a special private audience with the Queen on Sunday.

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