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NATO calls Ukraine’s path to membership ‘irreversible’

washington — The United States and its NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine’s path to  membership in the organization is “irreversible,” according to a communique released by the 32-member bloc during this week’s summit in Washington.

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday.

The United States was once deeply concerned about whether Ukraine was ready for NATO membership but now appears resolved to ensure Kyiv eventually joins the alliance.

“We’re providing that bridge to membership for Ukraine. It’s really a significant deliverable,” Michael Carpenter, the senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, told VOA.

Stoltenberg explained that when fighting stops in Ukraine, NATO will need to ensure that it stops for good.

The way to ensure that, he added, is to secure NATO membership for Ukraine. Otherwise, he said, Russia could continue its aggression.

Unlike the European Union, which began negotiations with Ukraine to join its ranks on June 25, there is no consensus yet about Ukraine joining NATO.

 

F-16 transfer under way

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the first American-made F-16 fighter jets were being delivered to Ukraine and were expected to patrol Ukrainian skies in the coming weeks.

“The transfer of F-16s is officially under way, and Ukraine will be flying F-16s this summer,” he said at the summit.

In a statement Wednesday, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the Dutch and Danish governments were providing the F-16s, while Belgium and Norway had committed to send more aircraft to Ukraine.

NATO member heads of state held their first working session of the summit  Wednesday as they sought to boost the alliance’s support for Ukraine and enhance their own defense and deterrence efforts.

At the start of the session, Biden said Russia was ramping up its defense production with the help of China, North Korea and Iran.

To counter them, he said, NATO members must continue to invest more in defense production.

“We cannot allow the alliance to fall behind,” Biden said.

 

China called out

In the NATO communique, all 32 allies also called on China to cease its support for Russia’s war effort against Kyiv, including its transfer of dual-use materials, such as weapons components, equipment and raw materials that serve as inputs for Russia’s military sector.

China “cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history without this negatively impacting its interests and reputation,” the leaders wrote.

Asked by VOA whether the statement was a strong enough message to deter China from continuing to support Russia, Stoltenberg replied in the press conference that Wednesday’s declaration was “the strongest message that NATO allies have ever sent on China’s contributions to Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.”

NATO allies invited Indo-Pacific partners from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to attend this week’s summit. Officials said their inclusion relayed the importance of these partners amid growing aggression from China, North Korea, Russia and Iran. 

Iulia Iarmolenko contributed to this report.

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