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NATO, Ukrainian leaders to meet Thursday at Washington summit

WASHINGTON — NATO and Ukrainian leaders are to meet Thursday in Washington, a day after NATO allies bolstered support for Ukraine to join the alliance.

The NATO summit’s final day will also include talks with leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the European Union addressing security challenges and cooperation.

A NATO communique released by the 32-member bloc Wednesday said Ukraine’s path to NATO membership is “irreversible.”

“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 said that when fighting stops in Ukraine, NATO will need to ensure that halt will be the final end to violence there.

The way to ensure it stops for good, Stoltenberg said, is 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 are currently being delivered to Ukraine and are expected to patrol Ukrainian skies in 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 Chinese, North Korean and Iranian help.

To counter their efforts, 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 on Wednesday 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 aid Russia’s defense sector.

“The PRC 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 is “the strongest message that NATO allies have ever sent on China’s contributions to Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.”

A spokesperson for China’s mission to the European Union rejected the NATO statement, calling it “filled with Cold War mentality and belligerent rhetoric.”

NATO allies invited Indo-Pacific partners from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to also attend this week’s summit. Officials say their inclusion reflects their importance during growing Chinese, North Korean, Russian and Iranian aggression.

Iulia Iarmolenko contributed to this report. Some information for this report was provided by Reuters

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