Biden hosts NATO members in Washington as he looks for reprieve from campaign pressures

President Joe Biden will address NATO members on Tuesday evening to mark the start of the alliance’s annual summit

Andrew Feinberg
in Washington DC
Tuesday 09 July 2024 15:04 BST
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NATO 'an island of security'

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

World leaders from NATO countries are set to descend on Washington, DC, this week for their annual meeting as President Joe Biden looks to quell fears and move past questions on his future.

Heads of state and government from 32 NATO nations — plus leaders of Ukraine, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — began arriving at Joint Base Andrews on Monday for the annual gathering. Biden is scheduled to open the confab with a speech marking the 75th anniversary of the transatlantic alliance.

The president has touted the alliance’s expansion — including formerly neutral nations Finland and Sweden — in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine as one of his key foreign policy accomplishments. He has also bosted that now more than two thirds of the block are now meeting a decade-old goal of spending 2 percent of their respective gross domestic products on defense needs.

It is expected that Biden will lean into those efforts, plus his work assembling a worldwide alliance to arm and support Kyiv in the face of Russian aggression, when he speaks to world leaders at the Mellon Auditorium late Tuesday evening.

The speech will be his first major address since the June 27 debate with Donald Trump, where Biden performed so poorly that many members of his party have openly questioned whether he is fit to remain on the ballot in this year’s presidential election.

NATO is set to meet in Washington, DC, this week as Joe Biden looks to move past questions about his political future
NATO is set to meet in Washington, DC, this week as Joe Biden looks to move past questions about his political future (AP)

But White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby denied that Biden’s poor performance has rankled NATO allies.

“I think the question presupposes the notion that they need to be reassured of American leadership and President Biden’s commitment, and I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said moments after he was asked if Biden has a plan for reassuring allies that he’s “up to the job” after multiple members of his own party have called for him to stand down from his re-election bid in favor of a younger candidate.

“We’re not picking up any signs of that from our allies at all,” Kirby continued, adding that allies are “excited” about the annual summit.

Pressed further on whether there have been any conversations with allies to reassure them of Biden’s capacity to lead the US, Kirby flatly denied that any had taken place.

White House and Biden campaign sources are hoping that this week’s pomp and pageantry on the world stage can quell the clamor for Biden to stand down, at least long enough for the president to make the case for him to stay in the race during his press conference on Thursday.

One White House official who spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity said they don’t expect Democrats in the House or Senate to make any moves against the president while he’s hosting NATO members this week, giving him a brief reprieve just before the political world shifts focus to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next week.

A different senior administration official who briefed reporters on the president’s plans for the NATO summit last week confirmed Biden’s plans to tout the growth in the number of NATO nations and their military spending since the Ukraine invasion.

The official also said Biden and the other 31 NATO leaders would roll out “new steps to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses and military capabilities to help Ukraine continue to defend themselves today and to deter Russian aggression into the future” and celebrate the nearly two dozen nations that have signed bilateral security pacts with Kyiv.

White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby has denied that Biden’s poor debate performance has rankled NATO allies, even as members of Biden’s own party have called for him to stand aside
White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby has denied that Biden’s poor debate performance has rankled NATO allies, even as members of Biden’s own party have called for him to stand aside (AP)

Kirby confirmed the Ukraine-centric nature of the summit’s schedule when he took to the White House briefing room on Monday, telling reporters that Biden will host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a bilateral meeting on the summit’s sidelines on Thursday before attending a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine council.

Kirby said the resumption of American military aid to Kyiv has seen Ukrainian forces successfully hold territory against Russia or make small gains, which he called a “significant impact on the battlefield.”

“Ukrainian forces have successfully stopped Russia’s attack north of Kharkiv, denying Russia the ability to take that city, and limiting Russian gains to areas just across the border,” he said, adding that Ukraine has also held the line in other places by hardening defenses against Russian attacks, as  well as halted attacks in places such as Zaporizhzhia.

The people of Ukraine have yet again demonstrated that when supplied and when supported by the international community in the United States, they can hold off the largest though certainly not, I think is clearly evident, the most capable army in Europe,” Kirby said.

He told reporters that the US and other allied nations would make “several big announcements” related to Ukraine at the summit, and the alliance itself would roll out what Kirby called “significant new steps to strengthen its military and political partnership with Ukraine to help Ukraine continue to defend themselves today and to deter Russian aggression well into the future.”

“These elements, taken together with bilateral support, are part of a bridge to Ukraine’s NATO membership together the Washington summit will send a strong signal to Mr Putin that if he thinks he can outlast a coalition of countries that are supporting Ukraine, he’s dead wrong again,” he said. “As President Biden has said himself, Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”

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