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NATO representatives to meet under cloud over Biden’s future

People walk inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which has been decorated with signage in preparation for the NATO summit, July 8, 2024.
People walk inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which has been decorated with signage in preparation for the NATO summit, July 8, 2024.

The White House on Monday prepared to welcome members of the newly enlarged NATO alliance for a summit aimed at planning for Ukraine’s future defense, with administration officials brushing away concerns about President Joe Biden’s uncertain political future.

On Monday, the 81-year-old Biden said he’s staying in the presidential race, amid a growing list of calls for him to step aside after his shaky debate performance against Republican challenger Donald Trump last month.

"All the data shows that the average Democrat out there voted, 14 million of them who voted for me, still want me to be the nominee,” Biden said, speaking by phone to the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

And the White House dismissed questions about whether NATO allies are concerned that these cracks at the leadership level could put the 75-year-old alliance on shaky ground as it meets in Washington this week.

“We're not picking up any signs of that from our allies at all, quite the contrary,” said John Kirby, White House national security spokesperson. “The conversations that we're having with them in advance are that they're excited about this summit. They're excited about the possibilities and the things we're going to be doing together specifically to help Ukraine.”

NATO alliance meets under cloud over President Biden’s future
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Analysts say that while NATO leaders are indeed worried, they are being careful to not be seen as meddling in U.S. politics.

“I think there is a concern in NATO,” Richard Stoll, a political scientist at Rice University, told VOA via Skype.

“Leaders of the NATO countries may not love Joe Biden, but if we look back to the Trump administration, he [Trump] said a number of things that were really anti-NATO. And I think, with all honesty, that most NATO countries would prefer Biden – again, not necessarily because they're so pro-Biden, but because of the things that Trump has said and threatened to do about NATO. But they don't want to necessarily say a lot about this publicly because it looks like they're interfering in American elections, which is not something they're supposed to do.”

And there are other cracks among leaders in the alliance. Hungary’s far-right leader recently visited Russian President Vladimir Putin and cast himself as a bridge between the two adversaries. At this summit, the 32-member group plans to take over Washington’s role in coordinating Ukraine’s defense.

"In the last two and a half years, there are fewer and fewer, and now remain hardly any, who are able to speak with both warring parties,” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in Moscow. “Hungary is one of very few."

One thing unlikely to happen during this summit: a breakthrough in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Putin says Ukraine is not “ready” to discuss terms, which he contends include the retreat of Ukrainian troops from the four regions Russia claims to have annexed. Ukraine seeks a “just peace” that includes all its territory – and Ukraine’s leader will attend this week’s summit to press his case for that and for NATO membership in the future.

The alliance representatives meet Tuesday in Washington.