BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden on Monday used his first appearance at a NATO summit since taking office to call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from provocative actions targeting the U.S. and its allies. NATO leaders joined the United States in formally accusing Moscow and Beijing of malign actions.
Biden’s sharp words for Russia and his friendly interactions with NATO allies marked a sharp shift in tone from the past four years and highlighted the renewed U.S. commitment to the 30-country alliance that was frequently maligned by former President Donald Trump.
Biden, wearing a NATO lapel pin, said that in his extensive talks with NATO leaders about his planned meeting with Putin on Wednesday, all were supportive of his plans to press the Russian leader to halt Russian-originated cyberattacks against the West, end the violent stifling of political dissidents and stop interfering in elections outside its borders.
“I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses,” Biden told reporters as he ended his day at NATO headquarters. “And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind.”
Biden is on an eight-day visit to Europe in which he is seeking to rally allies to speak with a single voice in countering Russia and China.
NATO leaders on Monday declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine global order, a message in sync with Biden’s pleas to confront Beijing on its trade, military and human-rights practices.
In a summit statement, the leaders said China’s goals and “assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”
The heads of state and government expressed concern about what they said were China’s “coercive policies,” the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.
The NATO leaders also took a big swipe at Russia in their communique, deploring what they consider its aggressive military activities and its snap war games near the borders of NATO countries as well as repeated violations of their airspace by Russian planes.
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They said Russia had ramped up “hybrid” actions against member countries with attempts to interfere in elections, political and economic intimidation, disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”
“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,'” they said.
DIFFERENCES OF TONE
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of European and North American countries formed after World War II as a bulwark against Russian aggression. The new Brussels communique states plainly that the NATO nations also “will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.”
Biden arrived at the NATO summit after three days of consulting with Group of Seven allies in England, where he successfully pushed for a G-7 communique that called out forced-labor practices and other human-rights violations affecting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s western Xinjiang province.
However, differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to criticize Beijing.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO’s decision to name China as a threat “shouldn’t be overstated” because Beijing, like Russia, is also a partner in some areas. China is Germany’s top trading partner, and Merkel said it is important to “find the right balance.”
French President Emmanuel Macron urged the alliance not to let China distract it from what he sees as more pressing issues facing NATO, including the fight against terrorism and security issues related to Russia.
“I think it is very important not to scatter our efforts and not to have biases in our relation to China,” Macron said.
The Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom on Monday issued a statement saying the G-7 communique “deliberately slandered China and arbitrarily interfered in China’s internal affairs.” There was no immediate reaction to the NATO statement.
Leading NATO members declared it a pivotal moment for an alliance beleaguered during the presidency of Trump, who questioned the relevance of the multilateral organization.
Biden sat down with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and underscored the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on any member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.
“Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” said Biden. “I want NATO to know America is there.”
After the meeting, Stoltenberg said it was an achievement for the alliance to start pivoting toward China. “It’s not about moving NATO to Asia,” he said. But “we need to address the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security even though many allies have a lot of economic ties with China.”
Just a few years ago, talk about Beijing at NATO was nearly nonexistent. Even to raise the issue in NATO hallways was taboo, with some members wary that doing so would push relations with the country into a Cold War-era framework of superpower rivalry.
But China has become more aggressive on the world stage, and Washington has become more hawkish toward Beijing. Trump pushed China to be more confrontational, and Biden has continued the effort and even accelerated it.
It was a marked contrast to the days when Trump called the alliance “obsolete” and complained that it allowed for “global freeloading” countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S.
Biden was greeted by fellow leaders with warmth and even a bit of relief.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Biden’s presence “emphasizes the renewal of the transatlantic partnership.” He said NATO allies were looking to get beyond four stormy years and infighting among member countries.
“I think now we are ready to turn the page,” de Croo said.
Almost all the leaders declared delight that the United States “was back,” according to two officials who listened to the discussions, a possible sign that Biden’s trip may be succeeding in reassuring shaky European allies.
The meeting “was like the first day back at school, seeing all your old friends again,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told fellow leaders, according to Stoltenberg. “And that was really the atmosphere in the room,” he told reporters.
Biden, at a news conference, was asked how he can reassure European leaders that the United States can keep its promises from administration to administration, given the deadly insurrection aimed at overturning his election and the political power Trump still holds.
“What I’m saying to them is, ‘Watch me,'” Biden said. He then quoted an old saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Biden described the four years of Trump as a “disappointing” aberration, arguing that NATO and the Group of Seven leaders know that the United States is “a decent, honorable nation” and that “the American people aren’t going to sustain that kind of behavior.”
The president skirted close to an unofficial taboo of overseas travel — talking about domestic politics — as he acknowledged Trump’s outsize hold on the GOP but downplayed his predecessor’s overall influence.
“I think it’s appropriate to say that the Republican Party is vastly diminished in numbers, the leadership of the Republican Party is fractured, and the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people,” Biden said.
UPDATING ARTICLE 5
The alliance also updated Article 5 to offer greater clarity on how the alliance should react to major cyberattacks — a matter of growing concern amid hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.
Beyond extending potential use of the mutual defense clause to apply to space, the leaders also broadened the definition of what might constitute such an attack in cyberspace, in a warning to any adversary that might use constant low-level attacks as a tactic.
The organization declared in 2014 that a cyberattack could be met by a collective response by all 30 member countries, and Monday said “the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack.”
The president started his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank as well as meetings with leaders of Poland and Romania to discuss any threat posed by Russia and the recent air piracy in Belarus.
Biden also met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the summit sidelines.
Erdogan said Monday that his country would need “diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance” from the United States if it were to maintain troops in Afghanistan to protect and run Kabul’s international airport after the withdrawal of other NATO troops.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a series of meetings with NATO leaders on the sidelines of the alliance summit, Erdogan also said Turkey was seeking Pakistan’s and Hungary’s involvement in a new mission in Afghanistan after the departure of the U.S.-led NATO force.
Turkey is reported to have offered to guard the airport as questions remain on how security will be assured along major transport routes and at the airport, the main gateway to Kabul.
“If they don’t want us to leave Afghanistan, if they want a [Turkish] support there, then the diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States will give us will be of great importance,” Erdogan said. Turkey, a majority-Muslim nation that has close historic ties to Afghanistan, currently has some 500 soldiers in the war-torn country.
INVITATION TO TURKEY
Erdogan also said he held a constructive meeting with Biden and invited him to visit Turkey. The two leaders have known each other for years, but it was their first face-to-face meeting as heads of state and came at a difficult time in the two NATO allies’ relations.
“There is a strong will for the start of a new era in all areas, based on mutual respect and interest,” Erdogan said. “There is no problem in Turkey-U.S. relations that cannot be solved.”
Biden told reporters he was “confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey.”
On Afghanistan, Biden said: “There was a strong consensus in the room among the leaders … on Afghanistan. Our troops are coming home, but we agreed that our diplomatic, economic, humanitarian commitment with the Afghan people … will endure.”
Turkey has been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, while the U.S. has sanctioned Turkey over its purchase of a Russian weapons system. In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.”
Turkey denies that the deportations and massacres, which began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, amounted to genocide.
Erdogan said the Armenian issue was not discussed during the meeting. However, he renewed a call for an end to U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Ankara argues are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
“I openly stated that the support given to the [Syrian Kurdish fighters] should be ended,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan signaled that the two leaders failed to find a way to overcome their difference over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 advanced Russian missile defense system, which Washington says is a threat to NATO. It has removed Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program and imposed sanctions on defense industry officials in demanding that Ankara abandon the $2.5 billion system.
“Our thoughts on the S-400 are the same as before; I relayed our same thoughts to Mr. Biden,” Erdogan said.
But the Turkish strongman has recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country, which has been troubled by a currency crisis and an economic downturn made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
Information for this article was contributed by Aamer Madhani, Jonathan Lemire, Lorne Cook, Frank Jordans, Sylvie Corbet, Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press; and by Michael Birnbaum, Anne Gearan, Ashley Parker and Quentin Aries of The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity and discuss increasingly tense relations with China and Russia, as the organization pulls its troops out after 18 years in Afghanistan. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at a NATO summit in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity and discuss increasingly tense relations with China and Russia, as the organization pulls its troops out after 18 years in Afghanistan. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity and discuss increasingly tense relations with China and Russia, as the organization pulls its troops out after 18 years in Afghanistan. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets U.S. President Joe Biden with an elbow bump prior to a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is taking part in his first NATO summit, where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity and discuss increasingly tense relations with China and Russia, as the organization pulls its troops out after 18 years in Afghanistan. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to NBC News journalist Keir Simmons, back to a camera, in an interview aired on Monday, June 14, 2021, two days before the Russian leader is to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva. Putin has sharply dismissed allegations that his country is carrying out cyberattacks against the United States as baseless. (Maxim Blinov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as they pose for photos at the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
President Joe Biden, center right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center left, visit during a bilateral meeting while attending the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)