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US supports 'just and lasting peace' for Ukraine, Harris tells Zelensky at Swiss summit

US supports 'just and lasting peace' for Ukraine, Harris tells Zelensky at Swiss summit
US supports 'just and lasting peace' for Ukraine, Harris tells Zelensky at Swiss summit

 


Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday pledged America's full support to support Ukraine and global efforts to achieve “a just and lasting peace” in the face of Russia's invasion, representing the United States at of an international gathering on the war and meeting with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss his country's vision for ending it.

As she arrived at the meeting venue overlooking Lake Lucerne for what would be a 28-hour drive from Washington and back, Harris announced $1.5 billion in U.S. aid through the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development. This includes money for energy aid, repairing damaged energy infrastructure, helping refugees and strengthening civil security in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression.

“War is not our choice. It is Putin's choice,” Zelensky said alongside Harris before their private meeting. “And with this summit today, we will do everything we can to start moving toward real peace.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (left) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (right) as they meet for a bilateral talk during the Ukraine Peace Summit, in Stansstad near Lucerne, Switzerland , Saturday June 15, 2024. . ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE/Pool via REUTERS.

Harris responded: “I am here today to stand with Ukraine and world leaders for a just and lasting peace. She added that “as we look forward to and work toward peace, the United States is committed to helping Ukraine rebuild.”

President Joe Biden was in Los Angeles after three days attending the Group of Seven summit in Italy, where he spoke with Zelenskyy. Biden flew from Europe to California for a fundraiser Saturday night with Hollywood stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

The decision to skip the Ukraine summit highlights the competing election-year demands Biden faces as he tries to balance a complex domestic and foreign policy agenda while running against former President Donald Trump. It also reflects the growing profile Harris has found in favor of a second Biden term as the 2024 campaign heats up.

“Being vice president means you take a lot of hits for the team,” said Matt Bennett, who served as an aide to former Vice President Al Gore. “In the past, these moments on the world stage have been good for her. She looks presidential and very competent among world leaders.”

Zelenskyy, for months, has publicly pressured Biden and other world leaders to attend the meeting, even warning that their absence could further embolden Putin in his 28-month war. Biden ultimately decided to send Harris and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to represent the administration.

“Skipping the summit is a missed opportunity for the president and for the United States,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “That said, sending the vice president with the national security adviser is not exactly sending the junior varsity team.”

Biden is increasingly turning to Harris as he tries to rally the coalition of voters behind victory over Trump — and one more is needed to help him win a second term. Harris has taken a more visible role in promoting Biden to a diverse cross-section of the Democratic base.

She visited an abortion clinic in Minneapolis to highlight the administration's record on the issue. She launched an effort to highlight economic development under Biden's leadership, with a particular focus on minority communities.

And she has crisscrossed the country speaking out on issues like marijuana legislation and gun violence, as Biden's standing in the winning 2020 coalition has shown signs of erosion. She traveled to Atlanta on Friday to promote the administration's economic agenda before boarding Air Force Two for her red-eye flight to Switzerland.

But like Biden, Harris has also seen her standing among Americans decline. About 4 in 10 registered voters have a somewhat or very favorable opinion of Harris, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About half have a somewhat or very unfavorable opinion of her, and about 1 in 10 don't know enough to say so. His favorability ratings are similar to Biden's.

The Trump campaign criticized Harris for her surrogate role in Switzerland, with spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt saying the vice president has “failed thus far in every task assigned to her” and “will continue to embarrass our country at the summit in Ukraine.

Trump and his allies have at times attacked Harris, suggesting that a vote for Biden is actually a vote for Harris to ultimately become president.

The White House, in explaining Biden's decision to skip the summit, noted that the president had met with Zelensky twice in one week – on the sidelines of the G7 summit and the week before when they were both in France to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Russia was not invited to the Swiss summit. Putin promised on Friday to “immediately” order a ceasefire in Ukraine and begin negotiations if kyiv begins to withdraw its troops from the four regions annexed by Moscow in 2022 and abandons its plan to join the NATO. Ukraine called Putin's proposal “manipulative” and “absurd.”

Breaking the US-Ukraine security agreement 02:58

Biden may have eased the disappointment over his absence from the Ukraine meeting with a series of announcements in recent weeks aimed at further strengthening Ukraine.

G7 leaders this week announced a $50 billion loan program for Kyiv that will help mobilize interest and revenue from more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets.

Biden and Zelensky signed a 10-year security agreement on Thursday that commits the United States to continued training of Ukraine's armed forces, more cooperation in the production of weapons and military equipment, and greater sharing of information.

Biden approved sending Ukraine another Patriot missile system, which Zelenskyy said is desperately needed to defend against Russian strikes on Ukraine's power grid and civilian areas, as well as on military targets.

And late last month, Biden eased restrictions that prevented Ukraine from using U.S. weapons to strike in Russia. This authorizes strikes inside Russia with the limited aim of defending the second-largest city of Kharkiv, which is 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border and has been bombarded by attacks launched from inside Russia.

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