President Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday reiterated their support for Ukraine and pledged to continue collecting financial and military aid for Kiev as fighting intensifies on Russia’s front.
Mr Sunak, who is visiting Washington for the first time as Prime Minister and keen to establish Britain as a competent and reliable global player post-Brexit, said his country will not turn its back on Ukraine. That commitment comes even as both he and Mr. Biden face economic headwinds and domestic concerns about the length of the war.
“There’s no point in trying to wait and see us,” Mr. Sunak said at a news conference with Mr. Biden in the East Room of the White House, addressing Vladimir V Putin of Russia, whom he accused of mistaking that this was the If West were tired of providing support. “We’ll be here as long as it takes.”
Mr Biden said he was confident he could persuade a divided Congress to back a new round of funding for Ukraine, although he would not put a dollar amount on the package.
“I believe we will have the resources necessary to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Mr. Biden said, adding that a “large majority” of his critics in Congress would agree that Ukraine’s funding is better , than let Russia go unchecked.
Mr. Sunak’s two-day visit was a high-profile engagement for a 43-year-old leader who has only been in office since October and is keen to establish himself on the world stage. It also provided Mr. Biden with an opportunity to deepen his relationship with a young leader who is well aware that his role historically has been to be one of the American President’s closest allies.
Both men praised the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom and hailed the other for his leadership in Ukraine. But Mr Sunak, who is seeking a free trade deal with the United States – something Brexit advocates in Britain have promised as an alternative to European Union membership – will leave Washington with only a modest pact both countries announced on Thursday.
The agreement, dubbed the “Atlantic Declaration,” will bring countries closer together on research related to quantum computing, semiconductor technologies and artificial intelligence, an area where developments often outpace efforts to regulate them.
“It responds to the unique opportunities and challenges we face now and in the future,” Mr Sunak said of the deal when asked if it meant he had failed on his promise to complete a trade deal. Mr. Biden, whose Inflation Reduction Act raised some concerns among allies, said strengthening manufacturing in the United States and strengthening supply chains “wouldn’t hurt any of our allies and friends in terms of trade ties”.
Mr Sunak won no easy victory in his soft campaign to replace NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is expected to step down in September. Mr Sunak has publicly pushed for his defense secretary, Ben Wallace, to take the job. When a reporter asked if it was time for a British official to serve as general secretary, Mr Sunak grinned broadly, but Mr Biden would not be lured.
“That remains to be seen,” Mr. Biden said. Earlier this week he received Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who is also said to be interested in the job.
Mr Biden had warm words for Mr Sunak when it came to the PM’s efforts to bring leaders together on the issues raised by artificial intelligence. Mr. Sunak describes himself as a “techie” who will host an AI-themed summit later this year.
“We look to the UK to help us find a way out of this situation so that we can work in full, full cooperation,” Mr. Biden said.
The exchange on AI was met with moderate skepticism from experts, who noted that the efforts of a post-Brexit prime minister may do little to spur leaders to action.
“A London conference on AI regulation is a good thing,” wrote Peter Ricketts, former national security adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, on Twitter. “The British are good at getting together. However, this is not the same as leadership in setting norms. A lot of work is being done in the dialogue between the US and the EU.”
However, others pointed out that Mr Sunak has been working to bring his country closer to a number of allies, including by signing a plan with the United States and Australia to develop and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines.
“Making this entire partnership with the United States and Australia and even Korea and Singapore one thing is the most natural way he can continue to help Britain outgrow its weight,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon , Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution said in an interview.
Mr Biden and Mr Sunak have met at diplomatic events on a number of occasions in recent months, including over coffee when Mr Biden visited Northern Ireland in April. Despite their political differences – Mr. Biden is a moderate liberal and Mr. Sunak a conservative – both men share a common leadership style that values balanced diplomacy.
Mr. Biden has spent much of his tenure stabilizing United States relationships with allies around the world following the Trump presidency. And Mr Sunak, who became Prime Minister after Boris Johnson’s bombastic tenure and Liz Truss’ very short tenure, has tried to establish himself as a more reliable resident of 10 Downing Street. Still, both leaders have low approval ratings, and both cite countries that have so far managed to avoid economic recession but whose voters feel financially constrained by inflation.
During that visit, Mr Sunak was under pressure to reassure doubters in the United States and at home that post-Brexit Britain remains as reliable an ally as ever. He arrived in Washington with gifts including a tailored Barbour jacket, a staple of British outerwear, for Mr Biden, and both leaders peppered their meetings with historical knowledge of past prime minister-president relations.
“Prime Ministers Churchill and Roosevelt met here a little over 70 years ago and they affirmed that the strength of the partnership between Britain and the United States was the strength of the free world,” Mr. Biden said. “I still believe that claim to be true.”
There were occasional personal crushes – mostly from Mr Sunak – including when the Prime Minister mentioned at the press conference that their wives had met at spin classes. At one point he praised his accommodation at Blair House, the house opposite the White House reserved for foreign dignitaries: “The guest bedroom in the flat at 10 Downing Street isn’t quite comparable,” he quipped.
Yet their bond did not appear to be as close as Tony Blair had formed with President Bill Clinton and then with President George W. Bush. Elsewhere, Mr. Sunak cited Churchill’s early morning forays into the White House and his “harassment of Mrs. Roosevelt.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Sunak, “you won’t see me doing that.”
Stephen Castle provided coverage from London.