Washington will focus on the current and long-term security needs of Ukraine 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 July 11-12, the U.S. wants to focus on the current fight Ukraine is 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 the news of the day on cluster munitions. How close is the administration to the decision to provide such capability to Ukraine?
John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications: I don't have any decisions to speak to right now. What I can tell you is that, as we have kept in touch with Ukrainians throughout this war, we've evolved the kinds of capabilities as the war's evolved, and as their needs and our needs, quite frankly, have changed in terms of inventory. So, we're working our way through discussions with Ukrainians about lots of capabilities that they could use in the counteroffensive, and we'll just see where that goes.
VOA: As the Russian invasion of Ukraine nears the 500-day mark, Ukrainians are asking for more advanced weapons, such as ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile Systems], they also want more clarity on F-16s. Do you expect such decisions to be made during the NATO summit in Vilnius?
Kirby: I wouldn't look at the NATO summit as a decision point on certain exact systems. What I think you're going to see happen in Vilnius is the allies coming together to talk about what's going on on the battlefield today, what the Ukrainians need in the counteroffensive. But you're also going to see a discussion about what Ukraine's long-term security needs are going to be, even postwar. I don't want to talk about specific platforms or systems, just that there will be a more robust discussion about what long-term defense needs Ukraine is going to need.
VOA: The United States has been supporting the NATO 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 army's interoperability with NATO, does the Biden administration support the launch of a clear roadmap for NATO membership for Ukraine at the summit?
Kirby: We believe the most important thing to stay focused on is the fight that they're in right now. And in looking at postwar Ukraine, and what their security needs are going to be, and what commitments we and our allies can make to help them stay safe, because they're still going to have a long border with Russia. We still believe in NATO's open door of course, but we also recognize that in order to become a member of NATO, every country has to meet certain requirements and that it has to be a robust discussion between that nation 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 aren't repeated, leaving Ukraine in some kind of "gray zone" that might invite new Russian aggression?
Kirby: I think it's hard to look at what we've been doing over the last 16 months and say that Ukrainians are in some kind of gray zone. I think the message has been sent to Mr. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin loud and clear, that not only the United States, not just the West, but the entire world is going to continue to support Ukraine.
VOA: Another important topic to be discussed during the summit is Sweden's membership in NATO. U.S. Senators [Mitch] McConnell and [Bob] Menendez are saying the United States should not sell F-16s to Turkey until Ankara ends its blockade of Sweden's NATO accession. Is the president [Biden] hopeful that Turkey will support Sweden's membership during this summit, even though there is no decision on F-16s?
Kirby: The president has remained optimistic that Sweden will become a member of NATO and be our 32nd ally. He's glad to see that the dialogue between Turkey and Sweden continues. He understands that there's concerns on both sides. But he's glad that they're talking this out and working it through, and, again, he's confident that Sweden will become a NATO ally.
VOA: There are also four Indo-Pacific partners that were invited to the Vilnius summit. What kind of message does NATO send to China inviting those partners?
Kirby: This isn't about sending a message to China. Those nations are all also supporting Ukraine, in various ways, of course. But you've seen the alliance in recent summits talk about the challenge on the European continent that's posed by the PRC [People's Republic of China]. So, it's not unusual at all that, in an alliance summit, you're going to have a discussion or discussions about the PRC and the challenges that they face on the European continent. And these countries, these Indo-Pacific countries, they have a unique experience engaging with the PRC, and can bring some valuable perspective to that discussion.
VOA: What is the significance of Biden's visit to the United Kingdom?
Kirby: The United Kingdom is our strongest ally in so many ways and on so many levels. He's [Biden's] looking forward to yet another meeting with Prime Minister [Rishi] Sunak. They have been discussing, either face-to-face or on the phone, several times since the prime minister came to office about the war in Ukraine; that will continue on this visit to the U.K. But he's also going to have a chance to meet with King Charles and some climate experts to talk about the challenges of climate change, not just in the Northern Atlantic that affects both of our countries, but across the world.
VOA: The U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations today asked the U.N. to investigate the debris of the Iranian drones in Kyiv. What role can the United States play in this investigation?
Kirby: I'm not aware that we're going to play any role in that investigation. But look, it's common knowledge that Russia reaches out to Iran for support. They're not only buying more, several hundred more drones from Iran, but now they're collaborating with Iran to construct the manufacturing facility for Iranian drones on Russian soil. So it's clear that Mr. Putin is going to continue to rain down these drones on the Ukrainian people. So it's no secret that these Iranian drones are being used now. I'll let the Ukrainian authorities speak for how they would investigate remnants of these, but it's obviously so public that Iran is supporting Russia with these dangerous capabilities.