WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will head to Europe in a week for a three-nation trip, including a NATO summit, focused on reinforcing the international coalition backing Ukraine as it pursues a counteroffensive against Russia.
Biden is set to depart on July 9 for Britain, and then head on to Lithuania’s capital Vilnius for the meeting of NATO leaders, followed by a one-day visit to Helsinki for talks with his Nordic counterparts, the White House said Sunday in a statement.
The NATO summit comes as the Western military alliance seeks to admit Sweden, whose membership bid has been blocked by Turkey and Hungary, and as Ukraine intensifies its campaign to join amid Russia’s invasion.
Finland became a full member of the bloc earlier this year.
Before heading to Europe, Biden will host Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the White House on Wednesday to discuss Stockholm’s NATO ambitions.
Sweden asked to join the military alliance in May 2022, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine. Top diplomats from Turkey and Sweden will meet on Thursday, the day after Kristersson’s White House visit, at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Turkey ultimately dropped objections to Finland joining earlier in the year.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week denounced Stockholm for allowing a protest during which a man burned pages from the Koran. On Sunday, the Swedish government called the incident “Islamophobic”.
Western allies and Stockholm have insisted that Sweden has met the terms of a deal to join the alliance agreed to with Ankara last year.
UKRAINE’S NATO PUSH
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday he wanted his country to receive an “invitation” at the Vilnius summit to join NATO once the war with Moscow is over.
“We need a very clear and understandable signal at the Vilnius summit that Ukraine can become an equal member of NATO after the war,” he told reporters in Kyiv alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
“This invitation to the alliance is the first, very practical step, it would be very important for us.”
During the stop in Britain, Biden will visit Windsor Castle to meet with King Charles III for the first time since the monarch’s coronation, as well as hold more talks in London with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a month after his Washington visit.
Biden will seek to “further strengthen the close relationship” with Britain, the White House said, adding that more details about the trip will be announced soon.
The visit “reflects the strong relationship between the UK and US,” a statement from Downing Street said, adding that Sunak “looks forward to welcoming President Biden in the UK later this month.”