By Steve Holland and Gerhard Mey
LONDON/WINDSOR, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden touted a “rock solid” friendship with Washington’s closest ally Britain on Monday, dropping in at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office in London for talks en route to a NATO summit planned to show Western resolve over Ukraine.
Biden landed in London late on Sunday to kick off a three-nation trip including 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.
Both sides played down the president’s meeting with Sunak, their fifth in as many months, describing it as a continuation of long-running discussions, though it was Biden’s first visit to the British prime minister’s Downing Street office as president.
Biden is also due to meet King Charles later on Monday, after skipping his coronation in May in line with the longstanding practice of U.S. presidents. They are expected to discuss climate change, a cause the monarch has long embraced.
“Great for us to carry on our conversations,” Sunak told Biden as they sat in the Downing Street garden.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Biden replied. “Our relationship is rock solid.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the two leaders would share notes before the NATO summit in Lithuania, which kicks off on Tuesday and will be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.
Ahead of the trip, Biden urged caution for now on Ukraine’s campaign to join NATO, saying the alliance could get drawn into the war with Russia due to NATO’s mutual defense pact.
“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” Biden said in a CNN interview that aired Sunday.
Biden’s trip comes a few days after he agreed to send U.S. cluster munitions to Ukraine.
Such munitions are banned by more than 100 countries, including the United Kingdom, viewed as a threat to civilian populations because they typically release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area.
Russia, Ukraine and the United States have not signed on to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans production, stockpiling, use and transfer of the weapons.
“I think you find Prime Minister Sunak and President Biden on the same page strategically on Ukraine, in lock step on the bigger picture on what we are trying to accomplish, and as united as ever,” Sullivan said on Sunday.
Sunak, asked about cluster munitions on Saturday, said Britain was a signatory to the convention that discourages their use, and said it would keep doing its part to support Ukraine.
After his Sunak meeting, the 80-year-old president will travel to Windsor Castle to see the 74-year-old king to discuss how to help boost private investment to combat climate change, a threat both leaders say is existential.
“The president has huge respect for the king’s commitment on the climate issue in particular. He has been a clarion voice on this issue,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday.
Sullivan said Biden hopes to deepen his personal relationship with the British monarch. Biden has previously praised Charles for his leadership on climate issues.
The king will receive Biden in the quadrangle of the castle, where a guard of honour will give a Royal Salute and the U.S. national anthem will be played, the king’s office said.
Biden and Charles – who don’t know each other well – had a phone conversation earlier this year that Sullivan described as “incredibly warm”. Biden attended the funeral of the king’s late mother Queen Elizabeth last year, and First Lady Jill Biden attended the new king’s coronation.
Their meeting comes as Sunak has faced criticism over his commitment to environmental issues.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden, and Gerhard Mey in Windsor and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Leslie Adler, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff)
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