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Biden to meet with Zelensky during NATO summit

<i>Jonathan Ernst/Reuters</i><br/>
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

By Arlette Saenz, CNN

Vilnius, Lithuania (CNN) — President Joe Biden will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the NATO summit on Wednesday, an official familiar with the meeting has confirmed.

The meeting will mark a sign of unity as Zelensky’s attendance at the summit had been in question. Russia’s war in Ukraine is among the top agenda items for NATO leaders along with discussing a future pathway for the war-torn country to join the alliance, which has prompted some division among leaders.

Politico was first to report the meeting.

Ukraine is set to dominate the summit’s agenda as the US president looks to keep the group united behind Zelensky in the face of Russia’s invasion. The alliance is facing questions about a potential path to NATO membership for Ukraine, as well as additional military assistance as its counteroffensive continues.

Biden poured cold water on the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO as the war is ongoing and cited reforms the country would still need to make to join the alliance.

“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,” Biden told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last week.

Zelensky had previously said he does not plan on attending the summit “for fun” as he seeks a clearer pathway for his country to join the alliance along with security guarantees.

“It would be an important message to say that NATO is not afraid of Russia. Ukraine should get clear security guarantees while it is not in NATO. Only under these conditions, our meeting would be meaningful, otherwise it’s just another politics,” Zelensky said in an interview with ABC.

Biden and Zelensky have had multiple high-profile meetings over the last several months. The Ukrainian president’s first trip outside Ukraine since the war began was to Washington just before Christmas, where he was feted by Biden in the Oval Office before giving a speech to Congress.

A couple months later, Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv to return the favor and announce a half-billion dollar assistance package. The dramatic scene was marked by air raid sirens going off as the two presidents walked near the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Their last in-person meeting took place at the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, in May. Zelensky used the opportunity to press the world leaders for more assistance, coming just after the Russians took the town of Bakhmut following months of heavy fighting.

During this NATO summit, Biden could face some scolding from allies over his decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine for the first time. The move, aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s offensive capabilities, has prompted some public disagreement from allied countries Biden called it a “difficult decision” in his interview with Zakaria but said it was necessary because Ukraine is running low on ammunition.

Zelensky said Friday that Ukraine was grateful for a ‘timely, broad and much-needed’ defense aid package from the United States.

“A timely, broad and much-needed defense aid package from the United States. We are grateful to the American people and President Joseph Biden for decisive steps that bring Ukraine closer to victory over the enemy, and democracy to victory over dictatorship,” Zelensky said in a message on Twitter.

“The expansion of Ukraine’s defense capabilities will provide new tools for the de-occupation of our land and bringing peace closer,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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