Joe Biden embarks on three-nation tour, starting with UK visit ahead of NATO summit
United States President Joe Biden has embarked on a three-nation tour, with the highlight being the NATO summit focused on demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine, despite differences over the country’s potential accession to the alliance. Biden arrived in the United Kingdom, a crucial ally of the US, late on Sunday.
The President is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street, where discussions are expected to revolve around the upcoming NATO summit commencing on July 11 in Vilnius, as well as the situation in Ukraine. Sunak’s spokesperson stated that in the face of new and unprecedented challenges to security, alliances hold greater significance. Sunak emphasized the United Kingdom’s status as Europe’s leading NATO ally and its role as a vital trade, defense, and diplomatic partner to the United States. Additionally, he highlighted the UK’s commitment to supporting Ukraine in its fight.
During his visit, President Biden will also hold talks with King Charles of Britain, marking their first meeting since the monarch’s coronation in May. The discussions will primarily focus on climate change and environmental issues, according to the White House.
NATO Summit in Lithuania
The central focus of Biden’s European trip will be the NATO summit taking place in the Lithuanian capital over Tuesday and Wednesday. The gathering of Western allies aims to explore ways of assisting Ukraine in repelling Russian forces. Biden is expected to exert pressure on Turkey to drop its opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership bid. Ankara has accused Stockholm of being too lenient towards certain groups it considers security threats, including Kurdish armed factions and individuals associated with a failed coup attempt in 2016.
During a recent phone call between President Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the US President expressed his desire to swiftly welcome Sweden into NATO, as stated by the White House. The leaders reiterated their shared commitment to supporting Ukraine. Erdogan’s office confirmed that he would meet with Biden on the sidelines of the summit. Discussions are anticipated to cover Ukraine’s position in NATO, Sweden’s membership bid, and Turkey’s acquisition of F-16 fighter jets from the United States, according to the Turkish presidency.
Prior to his departure from the United States, President Biden made it clear that he would not make any promises regarding Ukraine’s swift entry into the alliance, a move that Erdogan publicly supported on Saturday. Membership in NATO requires unanimous approval from all 31 member states. While Ukraine has requested a clear pathway to membership at the upcoming summit, the US and Germany have expressed reservations, insisting on the necessity for the country to undergo democratic reforms and focusing instead on supplying weapons and ammunition. Biden cautioned against hasty decisions, citing the potential for NATO to be dragged into the war with Russia due to the alliance’s mutual defense pact, in a preview interview with CNN.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba held a phone conversation late on Sunday, discussing the summit and Kyiv’s counteroffensive campaign. Blinken described the discussion as “important,” while Kuleba deemed it “productive.” Kuleba expressed optimism on Twitter, stating that with 48 hours remaining, they are working towards a decision that would benefit Ukraine, NATO, and global security. One potential outcome could be the elevation of Ukraine’s relationship with NATO, leading to the creation of the NATO-Ukraine Council, which would grant Kyiv a seat at the table for consultations.
Biden’s visit to Lithuania will also include a speech at Vilnius University on Wednesday night, where he will outline his vision of a strong and confident America supported by robust allies and partners, ready to tackle significant challenges such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the climate crisis.
Nordic Leaders’ Meeting in Finland
Biden’s final destination in Europe will be Helsinki, where he will engage in talks with the leaders of Finland, NATO’s newest member, and participate in a summit with US and Nordic leaders. He will be the first US president to visit Helsinki since Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin five years ago. Finland recently departed from its tradition of nonalignment and joined NATO as its 31st member on April 4.
While Finland and Sweden submitted a joint bid for NATO membership in May 2022, Sweden’s application has been delayed due to Erdogan’s opposition. Sweden has recently revised its “anti-terrorism” legislation and lifted an arms embargo on Turkey. However, a recent incident involving the burning of a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm has posed another obstacle, according to Erdogan.
The sale of F-16 fighter jets also remains a point of contention between Turkey and the United States. Erdogan seeks to acquire the upgraded planes, while Biden insists on addressing Sweden’s NATO membership first.