LONDON—President Joe Biden kicked off his five-day trip to Europe with a stop in the UK, where he’s set to meet King Charles III at Windsor Castle and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Mr. Biden will then join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit on July 11 and 12 in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital. During the two-day summit, NATO leaders will work to address the “great challenges of our time,” including rising security threats from Russia and the climate crisis, according to the White House.
After the summit, the president is scheduled to go to Helsinki to commemorate Finland’s accession to the military alliance.
Mr. Biden’s visit to Europe has been overshadowed in part by his recent decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, weapons that are prohibited by more than 100 countries, including U.S. allies France, Germany, and the UK.
According to a Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor report, 97 percent of cluster munition casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are children.
“It took me a while to be convinced to do it,” Mr. Biden told CNN in an interview released on July 9 regarding his decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine.
Human rights groups reacted quickly to the decision, with Amnesty International declaring in a statement that cluster munitions pose “a grave threat to civilian lives, even long after the conflict has ended.”
Mr. Biden is expected to address these problems during his engagements in London and Vilnius.
Meeting With King Charles
The president is scheduled to join King Charles on July 10 for a ceremonial arrival and inspection of the Honor Guard at Windsor Castle, which is about an hour’s drive from London.
Following that, the president will meet with the king and participate in a climate engagement with philanthropists and investors at the castle. Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle, has been the family home of British kings and queens for about 1,000 years.
Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837, has been ruled out as a venue for Mr. Biden’s meeting with King Charles because of renovations. The palace will reportedly be ready for the monarch’s move-in after the 369 million pound ($470 million) repair and restoration project is finished in 2027.
“The Palace’s electrical cabling, plumbing, and heating have not been updated since the 1950s,” according to its website.
It’s unclear whether Queen Camilla will join the meeting with Mr. Biden.
In May, the president didn’t attend the coronation of King Charles; First Lady Jill Biden represented the United States instead.
During his visit to Windsor Castle, Mr. Biden will engage with a forum that will “focus on mobilizing climate finance, especially bringing private finance off the sidelines, for clean energy deployment and adaptation in developing countries,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on July 7.
While in London, the president will also meet with Mr. Sunak at 10 Downing Street, the British leader’s official residence and office. This will be the sixth meeting between the two leaders since Mr. Sunak took office in October 2022.
Mr. Sunak paid a visit to the White House on June 8, when the two leaders signed the Atlantic Declaration, a new economic accord to deepen economic ties. They agreed to enhance critical mineral supply chains, collaborate on emerging technologies, and limit outbound investments and exports to high-risk countries such as China.
Both leaders will “consult on a range of bilateral and global issues,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters.
This year’s NATO summit in Vilnius comes at a critical juncture, with some calling it the most important gathering since the Cold War or even since NATO’s inception in 1949.
Ukraine is anticipated to be a major topic of discussion at this year’s summit, with allies discussing security guarantees, the country’s future membership, and assistance to the war-torn country.
Ukraine formally applied to join the alliance last year, but member countries have made it clear that Ukraine can’t join until its war with Russia ends. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty establishes the principle of collective defense, which means that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all.”
During the CNN interview, Mr. Biden said the war with Russia must be over before NATO can admit Ukraine.
“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” he said.
“It’s a commitment that we’ve all made, no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia if that were the case.”
Mr. Biden also said the United States and NATO allies must present a “rational path” for Ukraine to qualify for membership in the military alliance.
The subject of increasing the spending target by member countries, which was a priority for former President Donald Trump, will also be tackled during this year’s Vilnius meeting.
The NATO members pledged to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product nearly a decade ago. However, many countries have yet to fulfill this pledge.
U.S. lawmakers want the 2 percent goal to be a floor rather than a ceiling. Only seven countries met the 2 percent spending target in 2022: the United States, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the UK.
Sweden’s membership will also be discussed at the summit, as the Nordic country seeks to join but is blocked by members Turkey and Hungary.
The NATO summit will be held in Washington next year, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the founding of the military alliance.