By Steve Holland and Gerhard Mey
LONDON/WINDSOR, England (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden made a whistle-stop trip to Britain on Monday, hailing the “rock-solid” friendship with Washington’s close ally before meeting King Charles for a discussion with the monarch and finance chiefs on tackling climate change.
Biden’s visit to Britain kicked off a three-nation trip that will include the NATO summit in Lithuania, at which allies aim to show solidarity with Ukraine against Russia’s invasion while not yet accepting Kyiv as an alliance member.
The president’s meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, their fifth in as many months, lasted less than an hour, with the focus on Ukraine.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” said Biden as they sat in the garden of Sunak’s Downing Street office. “Our relationship is rock-solid. Couldn’t be meeting with a closer friend and a greater ally.”
Sunak and Biden shared notes before the NATO summit which kicks off on Tuesday. Ahead of the trip, Biden urged caution for now on Ukraine’s campaign to join NATO, whose mutual defence pact obliges all members to come to the aid of any member that is attacked.
“We want to work with the U.S. and our allies on the pathway for Ukraine to join,” Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters, saying it would not be appropriate for Ukraine to join while the war was ongoing.
The leaders also discussed the U.S. decision to send Ukraine cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries, including Britain, which view them as a potential threat to civilian populations because they typically release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately.
Russia, Ukraine and the United States have not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their production, stockpiling, use and transfer.
“We stand by our obligations under the convention, which include discouraging their use. There is no change from us on that, obviously it is for each country to make a decision,” Sunak’s spokesperson said.
After the meeting, Biden, 80, headed to Windsor Castle to meet the king, where he was greeted with traditional pomp and ceremony in the castle quadrangle.
Biden, who skipped the king’s coronation in May in line with the longstanding practice of U.S. presidents, exchanged a warm welcome with the 74-year-old monarch before they met with banking bosses, financiers and philanthropists to discuss how to help boost private investment to combat climate change.
The issue is one both Biden and Charles, an environmental campaigner for more than five decades, say poses an existential threat. The meeting comes at a moment when Sunak has faced criticism over his commitment to environmental issues.
“We had several trillions of dollars of assets that are managed and deployed represented in the group that met today, all people who are deeply committed to dealing with the climate crisis,” said John Kerry, the U.S. special climate envoy, who was one of those present.
Amongst the other attendees were COP28 President-Designate Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, and chief executives from HSBC, NatWest, Blackrock, Lloyds of London and Allianz Holdings.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden, and Gerhard Mey in Windsor and Jarrett RenshawEditing by Leslie Adler, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff)
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