Biden invites Zelensky to White House amid push for Congress to approve more aid

10 December 2023, 21:14

Congress Border Security
Congress Border Security. Picture: PA

Mr Biden has asked Congress for a 110 billion dollar (£87 billion) package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel.

US President Joe Biden has invited Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House on Tuesday as the US administration steps up the pressure on Congress to provide billions more in aid to Kyiv in its war with Russia.

The visit is intended “to underscore the United States’ unshakeable commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal invasion,” the White House said in a statement on Sunday.

“As Russia ramps up its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, the leaders will discuss Ukraine’s urgent needs and the vital importance of the United States’ continued support at this critical moment.”

Argentina Milei Inauguration
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky embraces Argentina’s newly sworn-in President Javier Milei (Gustavo Garello/AP)

Mr Biden has asked Congress for a 110 billion dollar (£87 billion) package of wartime funding for Ukraine (£48.9 billion) and Israel, along with other national security priorities. But the request is caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security.

Mr Zelensky travelled to Buenos Aires to witness the swearing-in on Sunday of Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei. The Ukrainian leader had been scheduled to address US senators by video last week, but had to cancel the appearance, according to US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.

Congress already has allocated 111 billion dollars (£88.4 billion) to assist Ukraine, and Mr Biden’s budget director, Shalanda Young, said in a letter this week to House and Senate leaders that the US will run out of funding to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine by the end of the year, which would “kneecap” Ukraine on the battlefield.

“It’s time to cut a deal that both sides can agree to,” Ms Young said Sunday.

The stakes are especially high for Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during two television interviews on Sunday, given that “we are running out of funding” for the Ukrainians.

He said: “This is a time to really step up because if we don’t, we know what happens. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will be able to move forward with impunity and we know he won’t stop in Ukraine.”

Earlier, he defended the emergency sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition and also called for quick congressional approval of the foreign assistance.

Mr Blinken said the needs of Israel’s military operations in Gaza justify the rare decision to bypass Congress.

“Israel is in combat right now with Hamas,” he said. “And we want to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas.”

The tank ammunition and related support constitute only a small portion of military sales to Israel, Mr Blinken said, and that the rest remains subject to congressional review. “It’s very important that Congress‘ voice be heard in this,” he said.

The decision to proceed with the sale of more than 106 million dollars (£84.4 billion) for tank shells came as the administration’s larger aid package is caught up in an immigration debate.

Mr Blinken noted that Mr Biden has said he is willing to make significant compromises to get the aid package moving.

“It’s something the president is fully prepared to engage on,” Mr Blinken said.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said there is bipartisan agreement that something has to be done to address record numbers of migrants crossing into the US from Mexico.

“We want to solve that, to secure the border. I just saw the president of the United States say that we’ve got to secure the border. He’s right. So, any effort that doesn’t do that will be rejected by Republicans,” Mr Romney said.

Fellow Republican Senator JD Vance said the administration has yet to justify additional aid to Ukraine.

“So what we’re saying to the president and really to the entire world is, you need to articulate what the ambition is. What is 61 billion dollars going to accomplish that 100 billion dollars hasn’t?” Mr Vance said.

Democrat Chris Murphy said the money would make a difference because Russia is struggling to fund its war effort.

“It can change the outcome of this war,” Mr Murphy said. “Because at the very same time that we are making a renewed commitment to Ukraine, Russia’s ability to continue to fight this war is in jeopardy.”

Mr Romney said he also supports the aid to Ukraine.

“My own view is that it’s very much in America’s interest to see Ukraine successful and to provide the weapons that Ukraine needs to defend itself. Anything other than that would be a huge dereliction of our responsibility, I believe, to the world of democracy but also to our own national interest,” he said.

By Press Association

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