Joe Biden arrived in the United Kingdom on Monday, ahead of a NATO summit in Lithuania.
The US President is due to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles III, discussing the Ukraine war, clean energy and Brexit.
The stop-off is a diplomatic gesture of goodwill which the White House says was designed to further strengthen “the close relationship” between the two nations.
It comes just days after Biden’s administration announced its controversial decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine to combat the Russian invasion.
Washington said on Friday it would supply Kyiv with the widely banned bombs as part of a new €730 million security package.
Several NATO members oppose the use of cluster bombs and Sunak has already made the UK’s position clear.
“The UK is a signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use,” he said. “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.”
Mr Biden was also due to meet the King on Monday, having missed his Coronation in May, which was being seen as the main focus of the president’s UK visit. At Windsor Castle, the 80-year-old president and the 74-year-old King were set to discuss how to help to boost private investment to combat climate change, a threat both say is existential.
“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,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.
On Ukraine, Washington appears to be closer to Berlin than London on the pace for Kyiv to join Nato, with the UK seeming to support a more speedy path. Britain, unlike the US, has made clear it will not be supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions.
Biden, a proud Irish-American, has long made clear privately that he is not the biggest fan of the English monarchy. But, he has told allies, he respected Queen Elizabeth II’s leadership and has found common ground with Charles on the need to urgently combat climate change.
Environmental issues will make up the backbone of the two men’s meeting at Windsor on Monday. Biden and Charles will receive a joint briefing from Britain’s Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Grant Shapps and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on a trans-Atlantic drive to “accelerate the deployment of literally trillions of dollars” of climate change investment, Kerry told the BBC on Sunday.
Both heads of state have form on environmental issues. King Charles championed the green cause long before it was considered mainstream, and has consistently used his influence to advocate for the environment. Biden has sought to reassert the U.S. role in reducing carbon emissions, rejoining the Paris Agreement on taking office and passing the Inflation Reduction Act — his landmark injection of $500 billion into clean energy and green industries.
Muddling up the wars in Ukraine and Iraq
In another infamous slip-up in June 2023, the president muddled up the ongoing war in Ukraine for the Iraq War, which ended in 2011. Mr Biden was speaking to reports on the south lawn of the White House before heading to Chicago when he was asked whether he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin had been weakened by the Wagner Group’s mutiny.
Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin had briefly led a rebellion marching towards Moscow.
Mr Biden responded by saying that Mr Putin was “clearly losing the war in Iraq”.
“It’s hard to tell, but Putin’s clearly losing the war in Iraq, losing the war at home. And he has become a bit of a pariah around the world,” he said.
The president was speaking to a group of gun control advocates at the National Safer Communities Summit in Connecticut at the time.
The slip-up raised eyebrows as to who he was referring to.
Was it Queen Elizabeth II who died in September 2022? Or was it Queen Camilla who was crowned just one month earlier when King Charles III took the throne in a coronation that Mr Biden famously snubbed?
The White House later sought to explain away the bizarre reference by saying that he was merely “commenting to someone in the crowd”. Another well-established link between the two heads of state is their dedication to their respective countries’ relationship with Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is also likely to be on the agenda.
A former Irish diplomat said the king “has very clearly maintained the legacy of his mother, in terms of her very positive influence on improving relations,” and agreed that Charles and Biden “have in common their shared and very constructive interest in Ireland.” Bergmann said Sunak’s tenure has been a nice change of pace after “there were some concerns about Boris Johnson,” one of Sunak’s predecessors, “being a loose cannon.”
Biden will visit the king at Windsor Castle, a royal residence outside London. Biden did not attend Charles’ coronation — first lady Jill Biden went in his place — so this will be their first encounter since then.
They’re expected to discuss climate change, an issue that has been a focus for both leaders, and how to finance initiatives to address the problem. The alliance has been reinvigorated by the war in Ukraine, and members have been pouring military hardware into the country to help repel Russia’s invasion.
Biden on Friday defended what he said was a “difficult decision” to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, a move his administration said was key to the fight and buttressed by Ukraine’s promise to use the controversial bombs carefully. Biden is likely to face questions from allies on why the U.S. would send a weapon into Ukraine that more than two-thirds of NATO members have banned because it has a track record for causing many civilian casualties.
For Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the summit “will send a clear message: NATO stands united, and Russia’s aggression will not pay.”
But NATO has also struggled to bridge divides over important issues. Finland was welcomed into the alliance this year, but Sweden’s membership has been held up by Turkey and Hungary.
There are also disagreements over how quickly to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join NATO.
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