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Biden is in Europe to focus on U.S. alliances and NATO expansion


President Biden is in Europe this week with a mission to shore up America's ties and discuss potentially expanding NATO membership at a two-day leaders' summit in Lithuania.


But he begins his trip this morning in the United Kingdom, meeting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and talking climate change with King Charles at Windsor Castle.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now from London. The NATO summit is really the focus of this trip to Europe. What will be the top priority?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, Ukraine is going to be the top priority. Biden has staked a lot of his personal reputation on uniting NATO in the face of Russian aggression. But one big test for this idea of NATO unity, when this summit does get underway tomorrow in Lithuania, will be around this question of Ukraine's membership into the club. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has called on Biden to invite Ukraine into NATO now, but Biden has resisted that push. The president spoke with CNN's Fareed Zakaria before he left for this trip to Europe, and Biden flatly said Ukraine is not ready for NATO membership.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Holding NATO together is really critical. 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.

KHALID: And that's because bringing Ukraine in now would require other NATO countries to join that war effort. You know, so Biden says it would be premature to call for a vote now, when Ukraine, though, I will say, would like to see at least a clear path to membership when the leaders get together this week.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So then what would even be the conditions for Ukraine to join? I mean, has the White House spelled that out?

KHALID: No. And the White House has said it will uphold NATO's open door policy, which means, in theory, Ukraine could join the club one day, but it's not articulated a timeline. Biden told CNN he thinks they have to lay out a, quote, "rational path" for Ukraine to get into NATO. And he said that will require some democratic reform. So, you know, it'll take some time to get into NATO.

But Biden did tell CNN that in the meantime, if there is a ceasefire in this war, the U.S. will be ready to provide security guarantees to Ukraine, akin to what it does for Israel, providing weapons capacity for the country to defend itself. Of course, that would require the approval of Congress. And there is the risk that this all could further anger the Kremlin.

MARTÍNEZ: Sure. Now, it's not just Ukraine's membership that's raised questions about NATO unity. Tell us, Asma, about what's going on with Sweden.

KHALID: That's right. You know, you probably recall, after Russia invaded Ukraine, both Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO. It's now been over a year, and Finland joined the group a few months ago. But Sweden's membership bid has been held up. And really the main opposition is Turkey. Turkey feels that Sweden is not doing enough to crack down on groups that it views as terrorists.

But really, experts tell me that this holdup is not just about Sweden. Turkey sees Sweden's membership as a moment of leverage, specifically around obtaining F-16 fighter jets from the United States. And on the flight over to Europe yesterday, Biden spoke with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Sweden's membership and this issue of the F-16. The two leaders are also expected to talk more on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Biden has said he is optimistic Sweden will join NATO, but it's still not clear when exactly that might happen.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Asma Khalid on the streets of London. Asma, thanks a lot.

KHALID: Good talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.