Biden visits Britain ahead of NATO summit

AFP , Monday 10 Jul 2023

President Joe Biden met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a flying visit to London on Monday, as they readied to join a NATO leaders' summit where Ukraine is expected to push to join the alliance once its war with Russia is over.

Biden, Sunak
US President Joe Biden leaves 10 Downing Street after meeting with Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, in London, Monday, July 10, 2023. AP


The vast presidential entourage swept into Downing Street for a red-carpet welcome, smiles and a handshake outside Number 10, as banks of media looked on.

The pair then held talks in the garden for just under 40 minutes, seated in wicker chairs and sipping from specially branded Downing Street mugs.

Biden and Sunak have met regularly in recent months, as the UK leader tries to repair transatlantic ties strained by the turbulent tenures of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Irish-American Biden's position on UK wrangling with the European Union over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland has been seen as at the heart of the tensions.

But relations have improved since Sunak and Brussels struck a deal about the movement of goods, protecting a hard-won peace after 30 years violence over British rule in the province.

Biden told reporters he "couldn't be meeting with a closer friend and greater ally", adding: "Our relationship is rock solid."

As the summit looms, there have been signs of divergence, notably over Washington's provision of cluster munitions to Ukraine, and concern echoed by other Western allies.

Biden said the decision to send the weapons was "very difficult" but Ukrainian forces conducting a counteroffensive against invading Russian troops were "running out of ammunition".

The move raised concerns from rights groups due to the danger unexploded bomblets pose to the civilian population.

Sunak at the weekend did not directly criticise the United States but reiterated that the UK was one of 120 signatories to an international accord banning the use and supply of cluster munitions.

"We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia's illegal and unprovoked invasion," he said.

On Monday Sunak again played down any rift.

"We stand as two of the firmest allies in (NATO) and I know we'll want to do everything we can to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security," he said.

Climate talks

NATO leaders are meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on Tuesday and Wednesday, where President Volodymyr Zelensky is hoping for a clear signal that it can join the alliance.

Western allies agree that Ukraine cannot join while war is still raging, as it would pull NATO into direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

But the United States is seen as most hesitant about its membership. Biden has described Kyiv's bid as "premature".

"I don't think it's ready for membership in NATO," he told broadcaster CNN.

From Lithuania, Biden will travel to Finland, NATO's newest member, for a US-Nordic Leaders Summit.

Before jetting to Vilnius, Biden will drop in for tea with King Charles III at Windsor Castle, west of London, to discuss climate issues.

It will be Biden's first meeting with Charles since he was officially crowned king in May. The US president did not attend the coronation but was represented by his wife, First Lady Jill Biden.

The couple had been at the funeral of Charles's mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September last year.

The British monarch, 74, is a lifelong environmentalist and Biden considers that he has been a "clarion voice" on climate change, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters travelling with the president.

Although not a full state visit, Biden will receive a royal salute at the castle and hear the US national anthem played by a band of the Welsh Guards.

Top financiers and philanthropists are also meeting in Windsor to discuss climate finance to boost support for developing nations to cut carbon emissions.

Attending the meeting will be UK energy security and net zero minister Grant Shapps and Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry.

The UK government said more than $1 trillion is needed by 2030 to help developing economies get on track to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Additional investment, including from the private sector, is required to cut non-CO2 emissions, halt deforestation as well as to adapt and build resilience to climate change.

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