Biden forcefully defends Nato as he hosts summit leaders

By Kayla EpsteinBBC News

Reuters US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the NATO 75th Anniversary ceremonyReuters

US President Joe Biden has welcomed Nato leaders to Washington DC with a forceful speech that seemed pitched to reassure allies overseas and closer to home that he can fight off a looming election challenge from Donald Trump.

In brief but strongly delivered remarks at the opening of the summit, the president declared the military alliance “more powerful than ever” as it faces its greatest challenge in a generation with the war in Ukraine.

He called it a “pivotal moment” for Europe and the world.

Warning that “autocrats have overturned global order”, Mr Biden announced more military aid for Ukraine’s beleaguered air defences.

“The war will end with Ukraine remaining a free and independent country,” Mr Biden said in remarks read from a teleprompter on Tuesday afternoon. “Russia will not prevail. Ukraine will prevail.”

Mr Biden and the leaders of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Romania are donating Patriot missile batteries and other air defense systems to Ukraine.

The US president spoke for about 13 minutes in a clear voice, a marked difference from his fumbling and softly spoken tone during last month’s presidential debate.

His speech took place at a fraught moment in his political career. He faces calls to step aside as the Democratic party’s presidential nominee following a poor performance at last month’s presidential debate against Trump.

Visiting diplomats expressed some concerns about Mr Biden’s future, according to reports.

“We don’t see how he can come back after the debate,” one unnamed European diplomat told Reuters news agency.

“I can’t imagine him being at helm of the US and Nato for four more years.”

Mr Biden’s team has responded by trying to show that the 81-year-old remains vigorous enough to handle the demands of the presidency.

The White House has credited Mr Biden’s leadership for the expansion of Nato since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, adding Finland and Sweden to the alliance.

Reuters Joe Biden poses with other Nato leaders in Washington at gatheringReuters

Leaders from the 32 member countries are converging on the US capital for the summit.

Joining them is the UK’s new Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer. Before leaving for Washington, he said he was pleased to “confirm and reaffirm Labour’s strong support, unshakeable support for Nato”.

The Nato trip is “all about standing together with our allies, discussing practically how we provide further support to Ukraine, and send a very, very clear message to Putin that we will stand against Russian aggression wherever it is in the world,” he said.

Mr Starmer is due to meet Mr Biden on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress.

The event was steeped in the alliance’s history.

It was held in the very venue where the original treaty was signed decades ago, which Mr Biden invoked in his speech.

After the leaders posed for a group photograph, the audience watched a video celebrating Nato, featuring archival footage of Nato troops and rousing speeches from world leaders.

In opening remarks, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg celebrated the creation of a group “with a clear purpose to preserve peace and safeguard freedom”.

The group of nations currently faces a major challenge as Russia continues its war against Ukraine.

Mr Stoltenberg called it the “biggest security crisis in generations.”

Near the conclusion of his speech, Mr Biden called Mr Stoltenberg back to the stage, calling him “a man of integrity and intellectual rigour.”

He awarded Mr Stoltenberg the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

Biden awards Nato chief Stoltenberg Presidential Medal of Freedom

On Tuesday evening, Trump criticised Nato allies during a campaign rally in Doral, Florida.

Trump has repeatedly lambasted member states for failing to meet an agreed goal of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defence. Many more Nato countries now meet the benchmark since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Trump told supporters that the member states were contributing “hundreds of billions of dollars” more because when he was president he had warned them “No, I will not protect you from Russia”.

When Trump made similar remarks at a rally in February this year, Mr Stoltenberg said such talk “undermines all of our security”.

But the Nato chief remained tight-lipped on the Republican candidate as the summit began on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky said at an event held elsewhere in Washington DC that the whole world “is waiting for November”, when the US general election takes place, and he urged American voters to stand by Ukraine.

Mr Zelensky is due to meet Mr Biden on Thursday.

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