War in Ukraine: Biden flies to UK over cluster bomb concerns

  • By Kathryn Armstrong
  • BBC news


US President Joe Biden is escorted to Air Force One before departing for the UK

US President Joe Biden is heading to Europe ahead of a Nato summit after several allies questioned his decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine.

The United Kingdom and Canada are among those who expressed concern over the delivery of the bombs, which are widely banned because of the danger they pose to civilians.

The US says they are needed because Ukraine’s weapons stockpile is dwindling.

Sir. Biden will not arrive in Britain until Sunday evening before heading to Lithuania for this week’s Nato summit.

On Monday, he will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss various issues, including the war in Ukraine. He will also meet King Charles for the first time since the king was crowned.

Members of Nato – a military alliance of 31 Western nations – will then meet in Vilnius on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Finland is participating in its first summit since joining in April. Plans by Sweden to follow suit have been blocked by Turkey, which accuses the country of harboring terrorists.

Sir. Biden is expected to seek additional support from Mr. Sunak to help broker an agreement with Turkey.

The matter is also expected to be on NATO’s agenda in Lithuania – along with increasing ammunition stocks and revising defense plans.

Ukraine has its own ambitions to become a member of NATO. But spoke to CNN before his tripBiden said this could not happen until the war was over – in line with the alliance’s long-standing policy.

Referring to Nato’s mutual defense pact, Mr Biden pointed out that members commit to protecting “every inch” of each other’s territory – meaning that “if the war is on, we are all at war”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously accepted this position, while requesting a “signal” that his country will be able to join the alliance when the war ends. He is expected to attend this week’s summit.

A potentially awkward visit

This is a potentially awkward visit that comes at a critical time for the US-led Nato alliance.

President Biden may not have intended to cause outrage by skipping King Charles’ coronation in May, but his absence was noted.

Then there is the question of who will be NATO’s next Secretary General. The United Kingdom and the Baltic states favored British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who has been instrumental in encouraging Western support for Ukraine.

But without US backing, it is a non-starter – and Mr Biden instead appears to be favoring former German defense minister and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

And there is also the row over cluster bombs. Britain is among 123 nations that ban these weapons, which can cause indiscriminate harm to civilians.

But the US is pressing ahead, amid international criticism, with delivering them to Ukraine as its forces struggle to break through Russia’s defenses in southern Ukraine.

But Mr Biden’s stopover in Britain is so brief that any cracks in the transatlantic alliance are likely to be ironed out by warm handshakes and ample protocol.

On Friday, the US confirmed it was complying with a Ukrainian request to send cluster bombs – and did so as part of a military aid package worth $800m (£626m).

Biden told CNN that it had been a “very difficult decision” but that he had finally acted because “the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition”.

But a number of Nato allies quickly distanced themselves from the decision.

Sunak did not directly criticize his American colleague. But he made it clear that Britain was one of 123 countries that had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions – an international treaty banning the production or use of the weapons.

Canada and Spain – Nato members, like the US and Britain – also declared their opposition to the weapons, as did New Zealand, a Nato partner.

“No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine, which we understand should not be carried out with cluster bombs,” said Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles.

But Germany, another signatory to the treaty and a Nato member, said that while it would not supply such weapons to Ukraine, it understood the US position.

Cluster bombs typically release lots of smaller bombs that can kill indiscriminately over a large area.

One of the concerns about their supply is their error or dud rate. Unexploded bombs can remain on the ground for years and then randomly detonate.

Ukraine has promised that the weapons will not be used in civilian areas and will monitor and report on their use, but Russia dismissed those assurances as “worthless”.

video caption,

Watch: US military video shows how cluster munitions explode

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