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Biden forcefully defends Nato as he hosts summit leaders

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US President Joe Biden has welcomed Nato leaders to Washington DC with a forceful speech that seemed pitched to reassure allies overseas and closer to home that he can fight off a looming election challenge from Donald Trump.

In brief but strongly delivered remarks at the opening of the summit, the president declared the military alliance “more powerful than ever” as it faces its greatest challenge in a generation with the war in Ukraine.

He called it a “pivotal moment” for Europe and the world.

Warning that “autocrats have overturned global order”, Mr Biden announced more military aid for Ukraine’s beleaguered air defences.

“The war will end with Ukraine remaining a free and independent country,” Mr Biden said in remarks read from a teleprompter on Tuesday afternoon. “Russia will not prevail. Ukraine will prevail.”

The US president and the leaders of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Romania are donating Patriot missile batteries and other air defence systems to Ukraine.

Mr Biden spoke for about 13 minutes in a clear voice, a marked difference from his fumbling tone during last month’s presidential debate with Trump.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats met privately to debate Mr Biden’s leadership of the party and the mood was “sad”, lawmakers told the Associated Press news agency.

Later on Tuesday, a seventh House of Representatives Democrat – Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey – publicly called on Biden not to run for re-election, saying “the stakes are too high” with Trump campaigning for a return to the White House this November.

Visiting diplomats also expressed scepticism about Mr Biden’s future, according to reports.

“We don’t see how he can come back after the debate,” one unnamed European envoy told Reuters news agency. “I can’t imagine him being at helm of the US and Nato for four more years.”

Mr Biden’s team has responded by trying to show that the 81-year-old remains vigorous enough to handle the demands of the presidency.

The White House has credited Mr Biden’s leadership for the expansion of Nato since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, with Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.

Leaders from the 32 member countries are converging on the US capital for the summit.

Joining them is the UK’s new Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer. Before leaving for Washington, he said he was pleased to “confirm and reaffirm Labour’s strong support, unshakeable support for Nato”.

The Nato trip is “all about standing together with our allies, discussing practically how we provide further support to Ukraine, and send a very, very clear message to Putin that we will stand against Russian aggression wherever it is in the world,” he said.

Mr Starmer is due to meet Mr Biden on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress.

The event was steeped in the alliance’s history.

It was held in the very venue where the original treaty was signed decades ago, which Mr Biden invoked in his speech.

Near the conclusion of his speech, Mr Biden called Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on to the stage, to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

On Tuesday evening, Trump criticised Nato allies during a campaign rally at his golf club in Doral, Florida.

The event was attended by all three of his sons, including his youngest, Barron, who was attending his first ever Trump rally, according to his father, and received more applause from the audience than his brothers Eric and Don.

Trump has repeatedly lambasted Nato member states for failing to meet an agreed goal of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defence. Many more Nato countries now meet that benchmark since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Trump told supporters that these countries were contributing “hundreds of billions of dollars” more because when he was president he had warned them “No, I will not protect you from Russia” unless they paid more to the alliance.

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