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Biden departs for Rome to meet Pope and G20 leaders

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden departed for Rome Thursday for the president's first Group of 20 summit since being sworn-in.   

The White House has given scant details on who Biden will meet with on the sidelines of the weekend summit, but two meetings won't happen for sure - both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be no-shows at the conference. 

On Tuesday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said he wasn't sure who was coming to Italy to represent Saudi Arabia either, as U.S. gas prices spike.   

President Joe Biden (left) and First Lady Jill Biden (right) depart the White House Thursday afternoon for Rome, Italy, where they'll meet with Pope Francis and then the president will attend the G20 Leaders' Summit 

The president and first lady walk hand-and-hand to Marine One Thursday afternoon 

Biden waves as he boards Air Force One for Rome on Thursday afternoon. He briefly delayed his trip to Italy in order to meet with House Democrats and deliver a speech about where Build Back Better negotiations stand

Officers stand guard around the La Nuvola convention center, which means 'the cloud,' ahead of this weekend's G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome, Italy 

WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE G20?

Argentina

Australia 

Brazil

Canada

China 

France 

Germany

Japan

India 

Indonesia

Italy 

Mexico 

Russia 

Saudi Arabia  

South Africa 

South Korea 

Turkey 

The United Kingdom 

The United States

The European Union 

Spain: a permanent guest  

Additionally, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López isn't attending, and the attendance of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida isn't likely, as there are lower house elections in the country on Sunday.  

So far, the only bilateral meetings that have been announced will take place Friday, ahead of the main sessions that will take place in the so-called 'cloud,' Rome's La Nuvola New Congress Center. 

After spending time with Pope Francis on Friday, Biden will meet with Italy's President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi, as they represent the host country. 

Biden will have a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday as well. 

That meeting will be the first face-to-face interaction since the French were blindsided by the Australians pulling out of a submarine deal to join a pact with the U.S. and the U.K.

The French were so insulted by the secret deal that they pulled ambassadors from both Australia and the United States.   

After one phone call with Biden, Macron sent U.S. Amb. Philippe Étienne back to Washington, D.C. 

The two leaders spoke again on the phone last week. 

Biden is trying to shore up relations with Europe, while Xi and Putin's absence is being interpreted by some as a snub. 

'If China doesn't come to Rome, if Russia - which has a lot of energy to sell to Europe - doesn't join the G20, I think that this G20 will be a confirmation of European fragility from the energetic point of view,' said Massimo Franco, an international affairs columnist for Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, to The Associated Press. 

Sullivan said Xi and Putin were skipping 'largely, it seems, due to COVID-19.' 

'President Xi has chosen not to attend these summits. He's chosen not to leave China at all in calendar year 2021 to see any leader. That's, of course, his choice,' Biden's national security adviser added. 

Sullivan said he and his Chinese counterpart are working to plan a virtual summit for Biden and Xi before the end of the year. 

'The U.S. and Europe will be there, and they'll be there energized and united at both the G20 and COP26, driving the agenda, shaping the agenda as it relates to these significant international issues,' Sullivan said.  

The G20 is also being dwarfed by the United Nations' COP26 climate summit, which is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland directly afterward. 

Biden will travel there too - and will be joined by former President Barack Obama, who was president when the U.S. originally signed onto the Paris climate accord. 

Former President Donald Trump then pulled the U.S. out of the climate deal. 

Reporters have asked press secretary Jen Psaki for weeks how Biden will show the U.S. is serious about combatting climate change when the reconciliation bill that contains climate change provisions is still a work in progress. 

Biden (left) delayed his departure to Rome by several hours so that he could meet with House Democrats on Capitol Hill. He walks through the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) 

On Thursday, Biden announced a new framework for the deal - which included his key climate provisions. 

Other social programs, like paid family leave and two years of free community college, had been pushed out. 

Biden delayed his departure to Rome to meet with House Democrats on Capitol Hill and then address the nation on the Build Back Better bill's progress. 

Earlier this week, press secretary Jen Psaki argued the bill didn't need to be passed to show the U.S. was serious about combating climate change.   

'World leaders are not looking at "is here a vote in the Senate or the House?" before the president gets on the plane, they're looking at what we're trying to accomplish, our commitment to doing that, the fact that we're making progress on that and the president's role in getting that done,' Psaki argued.  

Congress Hall in the EUR district of Rome will host the Media Center during the upcoming G20 summit 

Vatican CANCELS planned live broadcast of Joe Biden meeting the Pope and will only provide edited footage to the media afterward

The Vatican on Thursday abruptly canceled the planned live broadcast of President Joe Biden meeting Pope Francis, the latest restriction to media coverage of the Holy See.

The Vatican press office provided no explanation for why the live broadcast of Biden's visit had been trimmed to cover just the arrival of the president's motorcade in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where a Vatican monsignor will greet him.

Cancelled was any live coverage of Biden actually greeting Francis in the palace Throne Room, as well as the live footage of the two men sitting down to begin their private talks in Francis' library, at which time the cameras normally would have stopped running.

Pope Francis (right) shakes hands with then Vice President Joe Biden (left) during an April 2016 trip to Rome. On Thursday, the Vatican abruptly canceled a planned live broadcast of the two men meeting Friday 

The Vatican said it would provide edited footage of the encounter after the fact to accredited media.

Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president, has met Francis three previous times, but this will be his first as president.

The audience was being closely monitored since U.S. bishops are due to meet in a few weeks for their annual fall convention, with one of the agenda items inspired by conservatives who contend that Biden's support for abortion rights should disqualify him from receiving Communion.

Though any document that emerges from the bishops' conference is not expected to mention Biden by name, it's possible there could be a clear message of rebuke.

Francis has strongly upheld the church's opposition to abortion, calling it 'murder.'

But he has said bishops should be pastors, not politicians.

The Vatican has provided live television coverage for the visits of major heads of state for years and had scheduled such coverage Friday for Biden and before him, for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is also in Rome for a Group of 20 meeting this weekend.

Live broadcasts are particularly important because the Vatican hasn't allowed independent photographers and journalists into papal audiences since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Vatican has continued to cite the pandemic as a reason to deny external media access to the beginnings and ends of papal audiences with visiting leaders, even though they are allowed into other papal events.

It is during those moments in the pope's library that reporters can view the gifts that are exchanged, watch as the formal photograph is taken and overhear remarks as the leaders arrive and depart to get a sense of how the pope and his guest have gotten along. 

Only the pope's official photographer and Vatican video journalists are now allowed in.

Pope Francis (left) greets then Vice President Joe Biden (right) at the Vatican in April 2016, before President Donald Trump was elected. Biden's son Hunter (second from right) and son-in-law Howard Krein (center) stand along his side 

Biden (left) and Pope Francis (right), with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell standing behind them, wave from a balcony at the U.S. Capitol after the Pope addressed a joint-session of Congress in September 2015 

The Vatican correspondents' association has protested the cancellation of such pool access and several media outlets, including The Associated Press, formally complained about Thursday's cut of the live Biden-pope broadcast and asked for an explanation.

The White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, was asked about the limited media access to Biden´s audience and said the administration was 'working through every lever we have' to get more access.

Biden is travelling with his own pool of reporters who would normally be allowed into the pope's library for the beginning and end of the audience.

'We believe in the value of the free press. We believe in the value of ensuring you have access to the president´s trips and his visits overseas,' Psaki said during a White House briefing.

Noting that Biden was a guest and the Vatican the host, she added: 'I can´t offer you a guarantee, but I can guarantee you we will continue to advocate.'