US President Joe Biden and Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed in talks on Tuesday to work together to support Ukraine and stand up to China, the White House said.
They spoke for the first time hours after Sunak became Britain’s third prime minister this year, inheriting an economic crisis after the resignation of Liz Truss whose term lasted 49 days.
Only in recent days has Biden appeared to publicly criticize Truss’ doomed economic strategy, in a rare intervention by the US president. Relations between the two countries have also been somewhat strained in recent years amid ongoing tensions over post-Brexit deals in Northern Ireland. The White House is concerned about the impact on peace in the region.
Biden and Sunak reaffirmed the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain and said they would work together to advance global security and prosperity, the White House said in a summary of the conversation.
“Leaders agreed on the importance of working together to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its aggression,” the statement said of the war sparked by the Russian invasion.
Sunak promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Britain’s support for Ukraine would be unwavering and “as strong as ever under his tenure as prime minister”, a Downing Street spokesman said. “The Prime Minister said… President Zelenskiy could count on his government to remain united. Both leaders agreed on the need to continue to pressure Putin’s barbaric regime through continued economic sanctions.
For his part, Zelenskiy said he believed “British leadership in the defense of democracy and freedom” would only grow stronger. “Ukraine and Britain have reached new heights in their relationship lately, but nevertheless we still have the potential to strengthen our cooperation,” he said in an evening video address, adding that he had invited Sunak to go to Ukraine.
The White House said Biden and Sunak also agreed to “address the challenges posed by China,” which Washington has identified as its main geopolitical and economic rival on the world stage.
Downing Street previously published its own summary of the appeal, in which it referred to efforts to “counter the evil influence of China”.
The statement read: “President Biden congratulated the Prime Minister on his appointment and the leaders looked forward to working closely together. President Biden said the UK remains America’s closest ally and the Prime Minister agreed on the enormous strength of the relationship.
“Leaders discussed the extent of cooperation between the UK and the US, both bilaterally and in regions such as the Indo-Pacific where the Aukus Pact is part of our efforts to strengthen stability and counter the evil influence of China.
“They reflected on the leading role our countries are playing in supporting the Ukrainian people and ensuring Putin’s failure in this war.
“The Prime Minister and President Biden have also agreed on the need to ensure the security and prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland by preserving the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.”
The two leaders are expected to meet in person at the G20 summit in Indonesia next month.
Britain has been a key European ally of the United States in arming and supporting Ukraine’s military as it tries to repel the Russian invasion, which began in February.
Earlier Tuesday, Biden congratulated Sunak in a tweet.
On Monday, Biden described the appointment of Britain’s first non-white prime minister as “pretty amazing, a revolutionary step.”
With Agence France-Presse, the Press Association and Reuters