A day after meeting with leaders of the G-7 nations in Britain, President Biden met with the NATO secretary-general to guarantee the US’ commitment to the “sacred obligation” of the military alliance — ahead of the expected announcement that leaders will brand China a security risk to the Western nations.
“Article Five is a sacred obligation,” Biden said as he arrived at the NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, referring to NATO’s collective pledge to defend members of the alliance.
“I want all Europe to know that the United States is there,” he told Jens Stoltenberg, noting that “NATO stepped up” when America was attacked on 9/11.
The president said NATO is “critically important for US interests in and of itself.”
“There is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges. We have Russia, which is acting in a way that is not consistent with what we had hoped, and we have China,” Biden told Stoltenberg.
With allied leaders raising concerns about Russia’s recent military build-up near Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the summit as a “pivotal moment.”
Stoltenberg also mentioned China’s growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa as an indication that NATO had to be prepared to stand up for Western security and democratic values, warning, “China is coming closer to us.”
“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyber space, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” he said, a reference to ports and telecoms networks. “We need to respond together as an alliance.”
Attendees at the NATO summit kicked off meetings with a “family photo” in the NATO headquarters, which, according to pool reports, Biden arrived late for.
The photo was staged near a three-story-high cube of video screens showing the NATO summit logo that the leaders used as a backdrop.
Once Biden arrived, he took his position in the center of the first row, near Stoltenberg and Erdogan.
The leaders then turned toward the monolith to watch a presentation that included video and still photos.
The White House said NATO members are expected to sign a communique that not only pledges support for Article 5, but also acknowledges the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the need for enhanced security amid the ransomware attacks carried out by Russian-based hackers and the challenges posed by China.
Diplomats said the NATO summit’s final communique would not call China an adversary — with Stoltenberg specifying that China is not an enemy — but would call the ascendant Communist nation a “systemic” challenge to Atlantic security, as it joins Russia with military drills, launches cyber attacks and rapidly builds up its navy.
G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
“China’s reputation must not be slandered,” the embassy said on Monday.
Despite Biden’s assurances that the US is fully committed to the alliance, he is expected to get some push back from officials about his administration’s decision to pull troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — even as NATO troops remain in the country.
“It’s not a surprise that you’ve seen some countries express, pretty straightforwardly, their dissatisfaction with the way things were done,” a European official told Politico. “This is another example of one of the issues where within NATO, we should be more substantially discussing and consulting with one another before making decisions.”
Biden is scheduled to begin his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic nations – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – about the threats from Russia and “issues related to cyber and emerging technology,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Sunday.
Later in the day, Biden will sit down with lukewarm ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Sullivan said the two leaders will discuss regional issues involving Syria and Libya, but also touch China and Russia.
The president’s relationship with Erdogan started off on bumpy ground after Biden called him in April before releasing a statement recognizing the Armenian genocide, which outraged Turks.
Turkey’s government denies the killing of about 1 million Armenians in World War I was the result of a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign.
Biden’s European trip began with the G-7 summit in Britain, included the NATO gathering and will culminate on Wednesday with a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
The talks between Putin and Biden are expected to focus heavily on the recent cyberattacks, the Russian military presence near Ukraine that many see as preparation for an invasion, Moscow’s interference in US elections and the treatment of dissident Alexi Navalny, whom Putin sent to prison.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin dismissed the military buildup near Ukraine, saying NATO conducts drills near the Russian border and the US holds military exercises in Alaska, which is near Russian territory.
“Imagine if we sent our troops into direct proximity to your borders,” Putin said. “What would have been your response?”