George Clooney urges Biden to end campaign

WASHINGTON: NATO allies announced Wednesday they had begun a long-promised transfer of F-16 jets to Ukraine, with leaders meeting for a summit in Washington, but the event was marred by political uncertainty in the United States.
President Joe Biden, by holding a three-day meeting in the U.S. capital, is seeking to unite the West as well as reassure American voters in the face of intense pre-election scrutiny over whether, at 81 — six years older than the alliance — he is still fit for the job.
Kicking off events for the 32-nation alliance with a ceremony Tuesday evening, Biden pledged to deliver a new air defense system to Kiev and called for unity in the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched an invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
“Make no mistake. Ukraine can — and will — stop Putin,” Biden said in a forceful speech.
The White House said on Wednesday that Denmark and the Netherlands have begun sending F-16 jets to Ukraine.
Biden last year approved a key request from Ukraine, which wants to use modern Western aircraft as it fights to achieve airspace parity with Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the F-16 transfer “focuses Vladimir Putin’s mind on the fact that he will not survive Ukraine, he will not survive us, and if he persists, the damage to Russia and its interests will only get worse.”
“The fastest path to peace is a strong Ukraine,” Blinken said.
However, Donald Trump, who is ahead of Biden in recent polls, is considering the possibility of a quick peace by forcing Ukraine to cede territory to Russia.
The Republican tycoon has repeatedly questioned the usefulness of NATO — founded in 1949 for collective defense against Moscow — which he sees as an unfair burden on the United States.
On the eve of the summit, Russia fired rockets at Ukraine, killing dozens of people, including in Kiev, where a children’s hospital was reduced to rubble.
Biden invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the summit, who expressed gratitude for the F-16s, which he said would better protect his country from “brutal attacks by Russia.”
The new plane “will bring a just and lasting peace closer, showing that terror must fall everywhere and at any time,” Zelensky wrote on social media.
The summit will find ways to “secure the alliance against Trump,” including by having NATO take over coordination of arms deliveries from the United States.
Outgoing NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also sought a commitment to maintain arms deliveries at the same level — about 40 billion euros ($43 billion) a year — that NATO members have provided since the Russian invasion.
“I expect that regardless of the outcome of the U.S. election, the United States will remain a strong and faithful NATO ally,” Stoltenberg said as the leaders gathered for the summit.
Biden also invited four key Pacific partners – Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand – in an effort to boost NATO’s role in managing China’s rising power.
Ukraine wants to make sure it one day joins NATO, which considers an attack on any member to be an attack on all.
The NATO diplomat said the negotiations resulted in the formulation of a statement that will express support for Ukraine’s “irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership.”
Kiev’s membership enjoys broad support among Baltic and Eastern European states still haunted by memories of decades under Soviet rule.
But Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are leading the opposition, which fears the alliance will in fact go to war with nuclear-armed Russia, which occupies large parts of Ukraine.
Zelensky, who has gained hero status in much of the West for his media opposition to Russia, openly expressed irritation at the recent NATO summit in Lithuania that a clearer path to membership was not presented.
Other leaders also attended the summit, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Putin’s closest partners in the West, who before Washington traveled to Ukraine, Russia and China on a peace mission that was criticized by Brussels and Washington.
Biden, Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will later welcome their counterparts for state dinners in a Washington region that is struggling with a heat wave.
One of NATO’s new leaders is British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, who arrived for the visit just days after taking office following a landslide Labour victory.
He will meet both Biden and Zelensky and is expected to reaffirm Britain’s strong support for Ukraine.

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