American President Joe Biden is visiting the United Kingdom. He has met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles III. While Biden talked to the king about the climate, the war in Ukraine also dominated the discussions. Biden briefly discussed the American decision to provide cluster munitions with Sunak, an issue that will also be on the table in the coming days.
Joe Biden will travel to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, tomorrow for the annual NATO summit, which will focus on the war in Ukraine. Before and after the summit, he has other appointments on his agenda.
Today, that included a visit to the United Kingdom, “the greatest ally of the US,” as Biden himself expressed it during his meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Biden arrived at Downing Street in the late morning. It was his first visit to the official residence of the British Prime Minister. In the garden, over a cup of tea, he had a conversation with Sunak that lasted about 40 minutes. Biden referred to the relationship between the US and the UK as “rock solid.” He further stated, “I couldn’t meet a closer friend and a greater ally.”
However, the allies do not agree on everything. The decision by the US to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine is not followed by the UK, which is against it. Unlike the US (as well as Russia and Ukraine), the UK has signed a convention that prohibits the production and use of cluster munitions.
Cluster munitions refer to rockets and bombs that explode above the target, dispersing various smaller explosive submunitions. In this case, it pertains to 155mm artillery shells and not cluster bombs dropped from aircraft.
Cluster munitions are controversial because a significant portion may not explode immediately, posing a risk of dangerous explosions over an extended period.
Since 2008, more than a hundred countries, have signed a treaty against the use and production of cluster munitions.
According to a spokesperson, Sunak told Biden during their conversation that the UK would adhere to the obligations of the convention, including discouraging the use of cluster munitions. Sunak reportedly reiterated that the UK’s stance remains unchanged but emphasized that each country can make its own decision.
Earlier, Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, had indicated that the disagreement over cluster munitions should not be exaggerated. “Sunak and Biden are strategically aligned on Ukraine,” he said.
Tea with King Charles III
After his brief meeting with the British Prime Minister, Biden departed for Windsor, the residence of the British royal family west of London, accompanied by The Beast, as his armored vehicle is called, and the presidential helicopter Marine One.
Although the president was not on a state visit, he was received with the appropriate ceremonial welcome. It is Biden’s first visit to King Charles III since his official coronation two months ago. The president was not present at the coronation ceremony (his wife Jill attended), which received mixed reactions in the UK. However, Biden and his wife did attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, who passed away in September of last year.
During the visit, Charles III and the American president discussed the climate, a topic that is close to the hearts of both heads of state. Biden brought along John Kerry to Windsor, the former presidential candidate who has been appointed as the special representative for climate in his administration.
During the private conversation between Biden and the British king, the war in Ukraine likely was not left unaddressed.
In any case, Ukraine is the central theme during Biden’s four-day trip to Europe, intended to reaffirm US leadership in the world.
After his visits to London and Windsor, Biden will depart for the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, tonight for the annual NATO summit. He will then travel to Finland, which officially became the 31st member of NATO in April. It is his first visit to Finland since its NATO accession.