President Joe Biden: Ukraine Not Ready for NATO Membership

President Joe Biden left Sunday for a three-nation trip that a NATO summit in Lithuania will dominate to show solidarity with Ukraine in its battle against Russia while not yet accepting the country as a member of the alliance.

The president’s first stop will be in London, where he is set to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Monday and then travel to Windsor Castle for a visit with King Charles III.

The talks with the king, expected to include initiatives on climate, are designed to give the two men common interests to discuss after the death of Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, who died last September.

President Biden had tea with the queen at Windsor in June 2021, and they discussed several of the same issues that remain top priorities today, including China and Russia.

Biden will then travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday evening and hold talks with NATO leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday. The president and his allies aim to support Ukraine and give Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy a sense of what will be required to gain membership in NATO sometime in the future.

During a CNN interview preview of the trip, the president urged caution for now on Ukraine’s drive to join NATO, saying the alliance could get drawn into war with Russia due to the mutual NATO defense pact.

“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, the middle of the war,” said Biden. “For example, if you did that, then, you know — and I mean what I say — we’re determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory. It’s a commitment that we’ve all made, no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all at war. We’re at war with Russia if that were the case.”

President Biden said he had pledged more security, weaponry for Ukraine

President Biden said he has spoken to Zelenskyy at length about the issue and told the Ukrainian president the United States would keep providing weaponry and security. The president likened the situation to the U.S. relationship with Israel.

“I think we have to lay out a rational path for Ukraine to be able to qualify to be able to get into NATO,” said Biden, noting that he refused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands before the war for a commitment not to admit Ukraine because the alliance has “an open-door policy.”

“But I think it’s premature to say, to call for a vote, you know, in now, because there’s other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization and some of those issues,” said Biden.

Zelenskyy said an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO would send a message that the Western defense alliance is not afraid of Russia. He added that Ukraine should get explicit security guarantees while not in NATO, which would be one of his goals in Vilnius, he said in a Sunday interview.

“I’ll be there, and I’ll be doing whatever I can do in order to, so to speak, expedite that solution, to have an agreement with our partners,” said Zelenskyy on ABC’s “This Week.”

A centerpiece of the president’s visit to Lithuania will be a speech that he will deliver Wednesday evening at Vilnius University.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, told reporters the speech will cover President Biden’s vision of “a strong, confident America flanked by strong, confident allies and partners taking on the significant challenges of our time, from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine to the climate crisis.”

On the trip, one of the president’s objectives is to show Americans the importance of supporting Ukraine as he prepares to face reelection. Some of his GOP rivals in the race have voiced their doubts about his strategy.

Strong majorities of Americans support providing weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia and believe the aid demonstrates to U.S. rivals, including China, the will to protect U.S. allies and interests, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey late last month.

President Biden’s final stop will be in Helsinki for talks with the leaders of the newest NATO member, Finland, and to attend a summit of Nordic and U.S. leaders.