U.S. President Joe Biden said relations with the U.K are “rock solid” as he visited 10 Downing Street in London to meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of Tuesday’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about. I think we’re doing well. We’re moving along in a way that’s positive,” said Biden.
“Great for us to carry on our conversations, which we were having just a month or so ago, it feels like, in the White House, where we signed the Atlantic Declaration,” said Sunak, referring to the June agreement to cooperate on advanced technologies, clean energy, and critical minerals to counter China’s clout around the world.
Biden administration officials underscore that this is the leaders’ sixth visit in six months. However, the meeting is overshadowed by Washington’s recent announcement that it will send cluster munitions to Ukraine, despite the bombs being banned by 123 nations, including Britain, for their indiscriminate killing capability.
Sunak has not publicly backed the move, noting on Saturday that the U.K. is a “signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use.”
“We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, but we’ve done that by providing heavy battle tanks and most recently long-range weapons, and hopefully all countries can continue to support Ukraine,” he told reporters.
Sunak was fulfilling “his legal obligation” under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday.
He pushed back against the notion that the decision to send cluster munitions is creating division with the alliance.
“I think you will find Prime Minister Sunak and President Biden on the same page strategically on Ukraine, in lockstep on the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish, and as united as ever both in this conflict and writ large,” he said.
Biden and Sunak are also focused on finding the right formula to provide long-term security guarantees for Kyiv outside of the NATO framework as Kyiv moves toward membership. Biden has said he does not believe Ukraine is ready to join the alliance, citing needed reforms and the danger of dragging NATO into a direct conflict with Russia.
Following his meeting with Sunak, Biden headed to Windsor Castle to meet with King Charles, to discuss boosting private investment for developing nations to combat climate change. Biden did not attend the monarch’s Coronation in May.
“The president has huge respect for the king’s commitment on the climate issue in particular. He has been a clarion voice on this issue,” Sullivan said.
Biden heads to Vilnius Monday evening, for the two-day gathering with allied leaders that will focus on Ukraine, as well as strengthening and enlarging the alliance.
NATO leaders are meeting amid potential instability in Russia following an attempted mutiny by Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgheny Prigozhin. His troops have been invited to set up camp in Belarus that shares a border with Lithuania.