Joe Biden discusses cluster bombs for Ukraine in Downing Street talks with Rishi Sunak

UK acknowledged it was a 'difficult decision' for the US to send the explosives to Kyiv

Why did Joe Biden meet Rishi Sunak in London?

Why did Joe Biden meet Rishi Sunak in London?
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US President Joe Biden discussed his contentious decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine during a meeting with Rishi Sunak in London, Downing Street said.

On his first visit to No 10 as President, Mr Biden appeared in high spirits as he was greeted by his host on the red carpet in front of the famous black door.

During talks in the garden, where he was served tea in a Downing Street mug, he hailed the Anglo-American relationship as “rock solid”.

He said he “couldn’t be meeting with a closer friend and a greater ally”.

The American leader was seeking to quell concerns that the so-called special relationship between Britain and the US had turned tense over his approval of donations of cluster bombs for Kyiv.

Mr Biden's UK stopover also included tea with King Charles III at Windsor Castle before he left on Monday afternoon for Lithuania, where he will attend the Nato summit.

Mr Sunak said he and Mr Biden would continue talks on how the UK and US can “strengthen our co-operation, our joint economic security, to the benefit of our citizens”.

In their bilateral meeting that lasted just over 40 minutes, Mr Biden and Mr Sunak covered a range of topics including Iran and the Indo-Pacific region.

They also talked discussed:

· Sweden’s bid to join Nato, with the pair agreeing a "swift path" to accession must be opened up

· support for Ukraine and progress being made by Ukrainian troops in the counteroffensive

· artificial intelligence, with the President expressing "strong support" for the global summit in the UK this autumn

· clean energy, including joint efforts to improve supply chains

· the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in the post-Brexit era in Northern Ireland

The UK is among 123 nations that have signed an international treaty that bans the use of the explosives, which have a notorious record for civilian casualties. The US, Ukraine and Russia have not signed the convention.

Asked if the pair had discussed cluster munitions, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “Yes, they did.”

“When it comes to these munitions, obviously the first thing to say is this was a difficult choice for the US that’s been forced on them by Russia’s war of aggression,” he added.

Joe Biden arrives for talks with Rishi Sunak – in pictures

He echoed Mr Sunak’s comments at the weekend, that as a signatory of the Convention on Cluster Munitions the UK “discourages” the use of such weapons.

Mr Sunak and Mr Biden “discussed the commitments the UK has under that convention”, the spokesman said.

While Mr Sunak has expressed concern over the move, he has stopped short of directly criticising his ally.

In a statement following the talks, No 10 listed numerous areas covered, while the White House issued a shorter statement which mentioned "developments in Northern Ireland".

Mr Biden, who has Irish ancestry, has long warned the Good Friday Agreement must be respected by all parties in the post-Brexit era in Northern Ireland. The President visited the region in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the landmark accord.

On Nato, the pair talked about the “need to strengthen our alliance and maintain our support for Ukraine”, Downing Street said.

They are expected to further discuss challenges facing Nato when they meet at the treaty's annual gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Lethal and non-lethal support for Kyiv is expected to dominate talks at the crunch two-day summit, as well as accession bids by Ukraine and Sweden.

But while the US and the UK appear to differ on when Ukraine can join, Mr Sunak and Mr Biden agreed Sweden should be given a “swift path” to membership.

“The Prime Minister welcomed President of the United States, Joe Biden, to Downing Street this morning,” a representative of Mr Sunak said.

“The leaders discussed progress made since they announced the Atlantic Declaration, a first-of-its-kind framework for the economic partnership between the UK and the US, last month.

“Since the Prime Minister and President Biden’s last meeting in the White House, we have begun work on a UK-US Critical Minerals Agreement and the Joint Action Group on Energy Security has met to begin work on strengthening our clean energy supply chains.

“The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed to hold the first high level meeting between Number 10 and White House representatives in October to drive progress under the Atlantic Declaration.

“The Prime Minister also updated on the UK’s AI Summit which will be held this autumn and welcomed the President’s strong support for the initiative.

“Looking ahead to this week’s Nato Summit, the Prime Minister and President Biden agreed on the need to strengthen our alliance and maintain our support for Ukraine. They discussed the progress of the counter-offensive and emphasised the importance of the country’s international partners committing to its long-term defence, providing the support Ukraine needs to win this war and secure a just and lasting peace.

“On broader Nato issues, they agreed on the need to ensure that Sweden has a swift path to full Nato accession.

“The Prime Minister and President Biden also discussed the broader geopolitical context, including in the Indo-Pacific and with regard to Iran.

“The leaders agreed on the importance of their friendship and of continuing the close dialogue they have had in the few months.”

Downing Street declined to elaborate on the nature of the leaders' discussion on Iran.

In a briefer statement, the White House said both men "reviewed preparations" for the Nato summit and "reaffirmed their steadfast support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression".

"The leaders discussed the Atlantic Declaration on economic partnership they launched in June, including next steps to drive toward key outcomes in the months ahead," the White House said. "They also reviewed developments in Northern Ireland and efforts to ensure continued progress there."

The Sunak-Biden sit-down was their fifth meeting in as many months, and their sixth overall.

Security was tight ahead of the appointment, with officers closing off Whitehall to all vehicles to make way for the President's armoured vehicle nicknamed "The Beast".

During the Prime Minister's visit to the White House in June, the Democrat leader hailed the special relationship between the two nations as being in “real good shape”.

If the White House's Friday announcement on cluster munitions caused any tension in their bond it was nowhere to be seen on the steps of No 10. A red carpet was rolled out shortly before the American President arrived with a massive security detail and a large delegation.

The Prime Minister greeted his guest with a handshake and broad smile, and both men appeared at ease in each other's company as they posed for photographers.

Campaigners argue that cluster munitions pose a serious threat to civilians due to the large amount of bomblets they scatter over a wide area. Bomblets that fail to explode upon impact become de facto landmines.

Human rights groups calling for cluster munitions to be banned argue that civilians account for the majority of casualties.

The Biden administration said it had received written assurances from Kyiv that Ukrainian troops would not use the weapons in Russia or in urban areas.

The Sunak-Biden bilateral was followed by the President's audience with King Charles III at Windsor Castle.

The pair were expected to speak about efforts to combat climate change.

Updated: July 10, 2023, 2:48 PM