Biden engages in ‘tea diplomacy’ in U.K. ahead of NATO Summit

Sitting in the garden at Downing Street mid-morning on Monday, sipping tea, Mr. Biden described the U.S. relationship with the U.K. as “rock solid”

July 10, 2023 09:01 pm | Updated July 11, 2023 01:02 pm IST - LONDON

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with U.S. President Joe Biden at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, July 10, 2023.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with U.S. President Joe Biden at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, July 10, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden held meetings with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the country’s monarch, King Charles III, on Monday, on an overnight stopover in London, en route to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The conversation at No. 10 was the sixth meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Sunak, with the two leaders exchanging notes before the NATO Summit.

Sitting in the garden at Downing Street mid-morning on Monday, sipping tea, Mr. Biden described the U.S. relationship with the U.K. as “rock solid”.

“We stand as two of the firmest allies in that alliance and I know we’ll want to do everything we can to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security,” Mr. Sunak said.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sunak discussed “the progress of the [Ukrainian] counter-offensive and emphasised the importance of the country’s international partners committing to its long-term defence, providing the support Ukraine needs to win this war and secure a just and lasting peace”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

American allies — including the U.K. — have however shown reluctance to join the U.S. in its “very difficult decision” (as Mr. Biden has described it) to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the refusal of Mr. Sunak (and other NATO allies) to send cluster munitions was not a sign of their waning support for Ukraine.

“I do not think you will see fracture, division, or disunity as … as a result of this decision, even though many allies and signatories to Oslo [the Convention] are in a position where they themselves cannot say, ‘We are for cluster munitions,’” Mr. Sullivan told the White House press corps on board Air Force One during the U.S. delegation’s flight to London.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Sunak also discussed Sweden’s pending membership to NATO on Monday. Mr. Biden has been pushing for the country to join the alliance, preferably during the Vilnius summit, but negotiations with Turkey, which is the strongest opponent to the membership, are still underway. Ankara had previously expressed dissatisfaction with Swedish anti-terrorism laws, and its housing of Kurdish separatists in exile in Sweden.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, on July 10, that he had conveyed to Mr. Biden during a phone call on Sunday, that he would cease objecting to Sweden’s application if the E.U. opened up membership talks for Turkey. Turkey’s E.U. membership talks have been stalled since 2016, over human rights considerations.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Mr. Biden linked the sale of U.S. F-16 fighter aircraft to Ankara and Greece, to NATO expansion, i.e., Turkey (and Hungary) dropping their objections to Sweden’s proposed membership to the alliance.

At Downing Street, the President and Prime Minister also held talks on the Atlantic Declaration — an economic and technology framework agreement signed between the U.K. and U.S. in June, as well as AI, according to Downing Street.

The U.K., which is grappling with questions about its identity on the international stage after its exit from the European Union, is seeking to become a leader in the field of AI, and will host an international AI conference in the autumn, which the two leaders discussed, according to Downing Street. The U.S. readout was far less specific, not specifically referring to the summit.

Following his meeting with Mr. Sunak, Mr. Biden was hosted by the King at Windsor Castle, where he received an honour guard and “took tea”, as per the BBC, with the British monarch.

U.S. President Joe Biden is welcomed by Britain’s King Charles at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, July 10, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden is welcomed by Britain’s King Charles at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, July 10, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The King and President then met with private sector leaders and philanthropists to discuss the outcomes of a conference on private sector climate finance. This is their first meeting since the coronation of the King, who, as Prince of Wales, had a long-standing involvement in climate-change-related issues.

Mr. Biden was accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, among others, to both events on Monday. Mr. Biden’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, was also present at Winsor Castle for the climate finance discussions.

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