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US expects robust talks on Ukraine’s long-term security needs at NATO summit

Washington will focus on Ukraine’s current and long-term security needs at next week’s NATO summit, a White House official said Thursday.

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told VOA that at the summit in Lithuania on July 11-12, the United States wants to focus on the current struggle Ukraine finds itself in and support Kyiv’s immediate and long-term security needs.

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: I would like to start with today’s news on cluster munitions. How close is the administration to the decision to provide such a capability to Ukraine?

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications: I don’t have a decision to make at the moment. What I can tell you is that as we stayed in contact with the Ukrainians throughout this war, we evolved the types of capabilities as the war evolved and their needs and our needs, quite frankly, have changed in terms of inventory. So we’re discussing with the Ukrainians a lot of capabilities they could use in the counter-offensive, and we’ll just see where that takes us.

VOA: As Russian invasion of Ukraine nears 500-day mark, Ukrainians demand more advanced weapons, such as ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile Systems], they also want more clarity on the F-16s. Do you expect such decisions to be taken at the NATO summit in Vilnius?

Kirby: I would not consider the NATO summit as a point of decision on certain specific systems. What I think you’re going to see happen in Vilnius is the allies coming together to talk about what’s happening on the battlefield today, what the Ukrainians need in the counteroffensive. But you will also witness a discussion of Ukraine’s long-term security needs, even after the war. I don’t want to talk about specific platforms or systems, just that there will be a more in-depth discussion of what long-term defense requirements Ukraine will need.

VOA: The United States supported NATO’s open door policy. [The policy is based on Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, which states that NATO membership is open to any “European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”] As circumstances change in terms of European security and the Ukrainian military’s interoperability with NATO, does the Biden administration support the launch of a clear roadmap for Ukraine’s membership in the NATO at the summit?

Kirby: We think the most important thing to stay focused on is the fight they’re in right now. And looking at post-war Ukraine, and what their security needs will be, and what commitments we and our allies can make to help them stay safe, because they will still have a long border with Russia. Of course, we still believe in NATO’s open door, but we also recognize that in order to become a member of NATO, each country must meet certain requirements and that there must be a vigorous discussion between that country and the alliance, and we want to respect that process.

VOA: How will the United States and NATO allies ensure that the mistakes of the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest are not repeated, leaving Ukraine in a sort of “grey zone” that could invite to a new Russian aggression?

Kirby: I think it’s hard to look at what we’ve done over the past 16 months and say that Ukrainians are in some kind of gray area. I believe the message was sent to Mr. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin loud and clear, that not only the United States, not only the West, but the whole world will continue to support Ukraine.

VOA: Sweden’s NATO membership is another important topic to be discussed at the summit. US Senators [Mitch] McConnell and [Bob] Menendez says the United States should not sell F-16s to Turkey until Ankara ends its blockade on Sweden’s NATO membership. Does the president [Biden] hope that Turkey will support Sweden’s membership at this summit, even if there is no decision on the F-16s?

Kirby: The President remained optimistic that Sweden will become a member of NATO and will be our 32nd ally. He is happy to see that the dialogue between Turkey and Sweden is continuing. He understands that there are concerns on both sides. But he is happy that they are talking about it and working on it, and again he is convinced that Sweden will become a NATO ally.

VOA: Four Indo-Pacific partners were also invited to the Vilnius summit. What kind of message is NATO sending to China by inviting these partners?

Kirby: This is not to send a message to China. These nations also support Ukraine, in various ways, of course. But you have seen the alliance at recent summits talking about the challenge posed to the European continent by the PRC [People’s Republic of China]. So, it is not at all unusual that in an alliance summit you have a discussion or discussions about the PRC and the challenges it faces on the European continent. And these countries, these Indo-Pacific countries, they have a unique experience of engaging with the PRC, and can bring valuable perspective to this discussion.

VOA: What is the significance of Biden’s visit to the UK?

Kirby: The UK is our best ally in many ways and on many levels. he is [Biden’s] waiting for a new meeting with the Prime Minister [Rishi] Sunak. They have spoken, either face to face or on the telephone, on several occasions since the arrival in power of the prime minister of war in Ukraine; which will continue during this visit to the UK But he will also have the opportunity to meet King Charles and climate experts to talk about the challenges of climate change, not only in the North Atlantic which affects our two countries, but worldwide.

VOA: The U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations today called on the U.N. to investigate Iranian drone debris in Kyiv. What role can the United States play in this investigation?

Kirby: I don’t know if we will play a role in this investigation. But listen, it is common knowledge that Russia is reaching out to Iran for support. Not only are they buying more, several hundred more drones from Iran, but now they are collaborating with Iran to build the Iranian drone manufacturing plant on Russian soil. It is therefore clear that Mr. Putin will continue to rain these drones down on the Ukrainian people. So it’s no secret that these Iranian drones are in use now. I’ll let the Ukrainian authorities talk about how they would investigate the remains of these, but it’s obviously so public that Iran is backing Russia with these dangerous capabilities.

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