Biden stresses support for NATO as he looks to use summit to help reset faltering campaign

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden welcomed NATO leaders to Washington on Tuesday, celebrating their unity against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and underscoring America’s unwavering commitment to the alliance under his leadership — a message that seemed designed to bolster both his own wavering Democratic supporters and allies facing the prospect of a NATO-sceptic Donald Trump returning to the White House.

Biden was stretch convince American voters and donors that he is ready for re-election after his unsuccessful debate with Trump. He presented his arguments on campaign trailIN rebellious letter Democratic lawmakers and now at an international summit that he still has four more years of challenging work ahead of him in the White House.

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“Today, NATO is stronger than ever — 32 strong nations,” Biden said, welcoming leaders to an evening event marking the alliance’s 75th anniversary. “It’s good that we’re stronger than ever, because this moment in history calls for our collective strength,” he said, raising his head and speaking with a firm voice.

The summit comes at a difficult time for Biden’s presidency. Several House Democrats have publicly called on him to resign from the campaign. Other lawmakers have privately urged him to leave, and several high-profile donors have expressed concerns about his ability to survive a race against Trump.

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Biden has no shortage of tough, substantive conversations about global security during the three-day NATO summit. But the White House also wants to show America that it has the stamina for crowded days and evenings of formal meetings, chats with world leaders, long diplomatic dinners and receptions and a summit-ending news conference.

Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. and other NATO countries are taking essential steps to bolster Ukraine’s overwhelmed air defenses. The U.S., Germany and Romania are sending additional Patriot batteries, while the Netherlands and other allies will provide additional components to support Patriot batteries. Italy announced last month that it was sending a SAMP/T defense system to help Ukraine.

Other allies, including Canada, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, will provide other systems aimed at improving Ukraine’s defenses.

“This is a watershed moment for Europe and the transatlantic community, and I might add, for the world,” Biden said.

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Biden also announced he would award outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Biden called Stoltenberg, who served 10 years and extended his term four times, a “consummate professional.”

But the main focus of the summit was Biden’s political woes, which came four months before Election Day.

Several senior administration officials, who asked not to be identified to discuss internal discussions, said the president has shown a good grasp of the broader issues — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the threat from China — but when it comes to specific and incremental actions countries or groups might take on those conflicts, Biden has at times seemed unfocused.

But officials say there is no crisis of confidence — at least not yet — about Biden’s overall mental health.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters Tuesday before leaving Berlin for the summit that he was not concerned about Biden’s health. “I know from the many conversations I had with the American president that he prepared this summit very well and very precisely together with us,” Scholz said.

The summit will be Biden’s first opportunity to meet in person with novel British Prime Minister Keir StarmerBiden called Starmer last week to congratulate him on his victory and plans to invite him for talks at the White House on Wednesday. Biden is due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit.

The Labour leader had no concerns about Biden’s mental fitness during their phone call, according to a spokesman for the prime minister, who asked not to be named regarding the private conversation.

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Still, the head of Italy’s anti-immigration League party, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, said Biden’s “health doesn’t seem very good to me.” Salvini is a junior member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government.

The meeting of the leaders of 32 NATO nations — as well as Pacific partners Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, as well as Ukraine — is expected to be one of Biden’s last appearances at an international forum before Election Day and will take place before The Republican National Convention will be held next week in Milwaukee.

Biden has sought to emphasize his commitment to the alliance while trying to convince voters that Trump would turn away from NATO if he returned to the White House.

Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO members for failing to meet an agreed goal of spending at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. European unease intensified in February when Trump warned NATO allies in a campaign speech that he would “encourage” Russians “do whatever the fuck they want” to countries that would not meet defense spending targets if he returned to the White House.

Trump criticized Biden for providing “endless flow of American treasures” to UkraineThe Republican recently expressed openness to borrowing money instead he said that Ukraine’s independence was essential to the United States.

Biden’s advisers have pushed back on that proposal, pointing to NATO’s announcement last month that 23 of its 32 members are meeting the alliance’s defense spending target this year. Nine members were meeting that target when Biden took office from Trump in 2021.

Biden also takes credit for NATO expansion. Finland and Sweden joined after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“This is no accident,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby. “This is a result of leadership. This is a result of sustained oversight of the alliance and other partnerships around the world. The president’s record speaks for itself.”

NATO is expected to announce details of Ukraine’s path to membership at the summit. NATO, which operates on the basic understanding that an attack on one member is an attack on all, has said it will not admit Ukraine to the alliance until the conflict with Russia ends.

Kirby said the leaders will also discuss efforts to establish a coordination center in Germany to help train, equip and coordinate logistics for Ukrainian forces ahead of that country’s expected accession to NATO.

“It would be easy to look around Washington this week and see the unity, the determination, the capabilities of NATO today and say that’s just the natural order of things,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “But that’s not just the natural order of things. It took work. It took strategy.”

As for Biden’s health, Ian Brzezinski, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, said Biden needs to use the summit to “significantly change the impression” left on him by his poor debate performance.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for him to lead with vigor and energy, to underscore his commitment, the commitment of the administration, and the commitment of Congress to the alliance, and to underscore that he brings the determination that has made NATO so successful,” Brzezinski said.

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