LONDON – Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak were all smiles on Monday when they met in London – but concern over the US decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine remained.
The British prime minister told the US president on Monday that Britain « will uphold our obligations » under a treaty that bans the production or use of the controversial munitions, according to Sunak’s official spokesman.
Publicly, the two leaders – meeting for the sixth time since Sunak became prime minister last year – demonstrated a united front ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Vilnius.
Speaking to reporters in Downing Street, Biden said he « could not have met a closer friend and greater ally ».
In a sit-down that lasted just 40 minutes and saw the couple drink tea in the garden at 10 Downing Street, the US president and the British prime minister reaffirmed what Biden called « rock solid » relations between the two countries.
« We are two of the strongest allies in that alliance and I know we will want to do everything we can to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security, » Sunak said.
But the United States decision to arm Ukraine with cluster bombs as part of its latest weapons package has already opened a rift between NATO countries ahead of the summit.
Sunak explicitly said over the weekend that the UK « discourages » the use of guns – and his spokesman reiterated that position at a briefing after the Biden-Sunak meeting, saying the prime minister had raised the issue directly with the president of the United States.
Great Britain is one of over 100 countries that have signed up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which forbids « the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions causing unacceptable harm to civilians ».
« When it comes to munitions, I think the first thing to say is that this was a difficult choice for the United States that was forced into Russia’s war of aggression, » Sunak’s spokesman told reporters.
But they added: “As the former said over the weekend, the UK is a party state to the Cluster Munitions Convention. … They discussed the UK’s commitment under that convention, both not to produce cluster munitions and to discourage their use.
Asked if Sunak had “fulfilled his duty” to discourage the use of guns during the Biden meeting, the spokesman said, “Yes. They have discussed the requirements placed on the prime minister because of this convention, and the UK supports it. »
Ukraine’s goal of joining NATO will be another key theme at this week’s summit. Biden said in an interview Sunday that Ukraine « wasn’t ready » to join the military alliance, arguing that joining could only be considered once the war is over.
Sunak’s spokesman said on Monday that the UK’s « long-standing position » on NATO membership for Ukraine – wholeheartedly supporting Kiev’s offer – had not changed.
He said, « The prime minister believes and has stated before that Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO and we want to work with the US and our allies on the path for Ukraine to join that alliance. »