Biden at NATO: Ready to talk China, Russia and soothe allies

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BRUSSELS (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “worthy adversary” but declined to say how he’ll measure the success of the meeting in advance.

Asked during a press conference after Monday’s NATO summit about the upcoming meeting, Biden wouldn’t offer any specifics on what he’s hoping to gain from his time with Putin, saying only that they’ll discuss “areas where we can cooperate,” and a warning that if Russia refuses to cooperate on things like cybersecurity “we will respond in kind.”

Biden said, however, that Putin is “bright” and “tough” and expressed hopes the Russian president would show interest in “changing the perception the world has of him.”

Biden’s aimed to consult European allies on efforts to counter provocative actions by China and Russia while highlighting the U.S. commitment to the 30-country alliance.

The summit Monday comes as Biden tries to rally allies for greater coordination in checking China and Russia, two adversaries whose actions on economic and national security fronts have become the chief foreign policy concerns in the early going of the Biden presidency.

Biden is expected to use his time at the summit to underscore the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.

U.S. President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One as he arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels, Sunday, June 13, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts are bidding a symbolic farewell to Afghanistan at their last summit on Monday before the U.S.-led organization pulls out its troops for good. (Didier Lebrun, Pool via AP)

“We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security and I want them to know that NATO is a sacred obligation,” said Biden on Sunday at the end of the G7 before flying to Brussels. 

The White House said the message to be signed by alliance members at the end of the NATO summit is expected to include language about updating Article 5 to include major cyber attacks — a matter of growing concern amid a series of hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.

The update will spell out that if an alliance member needs technical or intelligence support in response to a cyber attack, it would be able to invoke the mutual defense provision to receive assistance, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The president will begin his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank regarding the “threat posed by Russia,” China and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to Sullivan. He’ll also meet with NATO secretary Jens Stoltenberg and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Stoltenberg has described the summit as a “pivotal moment.”

Biden’s itinerary in Europe has been shaped so that he would first gather with Group of Seven leaders for a three-day summit on the craggy shores of Cornwall and then with NATO allies in Brussels before his much-anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

At the G-7, leaders sought to convey that the club of wealthy democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China and Russia.

The G-7 meeting ended with a communique that called out forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. The president declined to discuss private summit negotiations over the provision, but said he was “satisfied” with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to call out Beijing.

Biden is focused on building a more cohesive bond between America and allies.

The last administration was at odds with some leading NATO members, including Britain, Germany and France, over Trump’s 2018 decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement that was brokered during the Obama administration. The accord limited Iran’s uranium enrichment program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

Trump and other critics felt the deal gave Tehran too many economic benefits without doing enough to prevent Iran from eventually developing a nuclear weapon. The Biden administration is now seeking a path to resurrecting the accord.

The U.S. and the alliance are also winding down their involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

The military effort followed the 2001 arrival of a U.S.-led coalition that ousted the Taliban for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The nearly 20-year war killed tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops.

For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. The alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country.

NATO members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new cyber defense policy to improve coordination with countries impacted by the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks, a climate security action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from military activities in line with national commitments under the Paris Agreement and a commitment to strengthen NATO’s deterrence to meet threats from Russia and elsewhere, according to the White House.

Biden will also meet with Turkey’s President, Erdogan, on Monday on the sidelines of the summit.

Biden has known Erdogan for years but their relationship has frequently been contentious. Biden, during his campaign, drew ire from Turkish officials after he described Erdogan as an “autocrat.” In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide” — a term that U.S. presidents have avoided using.

The two leaders were expected to discuss Syria and Iran as well as what role Turkey can play on Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal, according to the White House. Also on the agenda: how Washington and Ankara “deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues,” Sullivan said.

The unsettled security situation in Libya, as well as overlapping concerns on China and Russia are also expected to be discussed.

All reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters. Reporting by AP’s Jonathan Lemire, Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller and Reuter’s Robin Emmott, Steve Holland and Sabine Siebold.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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