President Biden said in an interview aired Sunday that Ukraine was not ready for NATO membership and that it was « premature » to start the process of allowing Ukraine to join the alliance in the midst of a war.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Biden said he does not « think there is unanimity in NATO on whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now » and that the process could only happen after an agreement of peace with Russia was in place.
“If war is on, then we are all at war,” Biden said, referring to the alliance’s commitment to mutual defense. « We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case. » He added that there would be « other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization » for Ukraine to be considered for membership.
The president began a European trip on Sunday that will include attending a NATO summit in Lithuania, where Russia’s war in Ukraine – and the US decision last week to supply Kiev with weapons banned by most of its allies – will be a main focus.
Mr. Biden said in the interview that he warned Chinese President Xi Jinping about getting too close to Russia. He added that after the Chinese leader met with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in March, Biden spoke with Xi and reminded him that dozens of American companies had withdrawn from Russia since the war began.
“He didn’t argue,” Biden said. « And if you notice, he wasn’t bored at all » about Russia.
Biden also defended his decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, which are outlawed by many of America’s closest allies. He said it was a difficult decision, but with artillery supplies dwindling, it was a choice between supplying the weapons or leaving Ukraine defenceless.
« It was a very difficult decision on my part, and by the way, I’ve discussed it with our allies, I’ve discussed it with our friends on the hill, » Biden said. « Ukrainians are running out of ammunition. »
Another topic of discussion at the NATO summit will be Sweden’s interest in joining the alliance. Mr Biden, who met with the Swedish prime minister last week, said he was « optimistic » that Sweden was closer to joining the group, despite opposition from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (But Mr. Erdogan supports Ukraine’s admission: he said on Saturday, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at his side, that « Ukraine undoubtedly deserves NATO membership. »)
Mr. Biden, who is 80 and running for re-election, has also expressed concern about his age.
« I think we’re bringing the world together in a way that’s going to make things significantly, how can I put it, safer for people, » Biden said. “I just want to finish the job. And I think we can do it in the next six years.”
East well contributed to reporting from Istanbul.