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Fresh Off France Trip, Biden Heads Back to Europe for G7 Summit to Talk Ukraine Support, Migration

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden headed to Italy on Wednesday for a summit of the world’s leading democracies with an urgency to get big things done, including turning frozen Russian assets into billions of dollars to help Ukraine as it fights off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

This year’s Group of Seven summit comes three years after Biden declared at his first such gathering that America was back as a global leader following the disruptions to Western alliances that occurred when Donald Trump was president. Now, there’s a chance this gathering could be the final G7 for Biden and other G7 leaders, depending on the results of elections this year.

Biden and his counterparts from Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan will use the summit to discuss challenges related to the spread of artificial intelligence, migration, the Russian military’s resurgence and China’s economic might, among other topics. Pope Francis, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are joining the gathering at the Borgo Egnazia resort in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

The summit, which opens Thursday, will play out after far-right parties across the continent racked up gains of surprising scale in just-concluded European Union elections. Those victories, coupled with upcoming elections in the United Kingdom, France and the United States, have rattled the global political establishment and added weightiness to this year’s summit.

“You hear this a lot when you talk to U.S. and European officials: If we can’t get this done now, whether it’s on China, whether it’s on the assets, we may not have another chance,” said Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, an international affairs think tank. “We don’t know what the world will look like three months, six months, nine months from now.”

The G7 is an informal bloc of industrialized democracies that meets annually to discuss shared issues and concerns. Biden is set to arrive in Italy on Wednesday night, his second trip outside the U.S. in as many weeks. The Democratic president was in France last week for a state visit in Paris and ceremonies in Normandy marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II.

While last week’s visit had a celebratory feel, this one will be dominated by pressing global issues, including how to keep financial support flowing to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. Biden’s trip also comes one day after his son Hunter was convicted on federal gun charges, a blow sure to weigh heavily on the president’s mind.

Despite pressing global challenges, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said there is still a sense of relief among world leaders in 2024 that “America was back,” referencing Biden’s 2021 speech at the G7 in Cornwall, England.

“Biden’s message then was that democracies need to step up and show they can deliver for their people,” Kirby said. “That’s true now more than ever.”

Kirby said the U.S. was prepared to work with democratically elected officials in the EU no matter who they are, though some of those being elevated have expressed far less support for Ukraine than current leaders.

“We have every confidence that regardless of who fills the seats in the European Parliament, we’re going to continue to work closely with our EU partners on all the issues relative to our shared interests across the European continent,” Kirby said. “That includes supporting Ukraine.”

Biden and Zelenskyy, who met last week in Paris, will meet again Thursday on the sidelines of the summit to discuss continued support for the Eastern European nation, which is trying to fend off an intense Russian offensive in eastern areas of the country. They are expected to hold a joint news conference. Biden is also expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the pope and other leaders.

Biden, who has been adamant that “we will not walk away” from Ukraine, last week publicly apologized to Zelenskyy for a monthslong delay by Congress in authorizing additional American military assistance. The delay allowed Russia to make gains on the battlefield.

Biden’s back-to-back trips to France and Italy amount to a rare doubleheader of diplomacy in the midst of the presidential election. The president will skip a Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland this weekend to jet to Los Angeles for a campaign fundraiser with big names from Hollywood. Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the U.S. at the conference.

Despite the delays in military aid, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced it would send Ukraine another Patriot missile system to help fend off Russian strikes, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Biden approved the move, the officials told the AP, as Kyiv has desperately called for more air defenses in its battle against an intense Russian assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Kirby said the U.S. would use the G7 summit to announce fresh sanctions and export control actions targeting those who have helped Russia procure what it needs for the war. He said the new measures would make it harder for financiers to support Russia’s defense mechanism.

Ukraine and many of its supporters have called for the confiscation of $260 billion in Russian assets frozen outside the country after the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. But European officials have resisted, citing legal and financial stability concerns. Most of the frozen assets are located in Europe.

A European plan to just use the interest on the Russian funds would provide only a trickle of money every year — about $2.5 billion to $3 billion at current interest rates, which would barely meet a month’s financing needs for the Ukrainian government.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said recently that G7 finance ministers have been discussing the possibility of extending a loan to Ukraine and using the windfall profits of assets seized in Europe to pay it off.

Kirby said the U.S. was optimistic the group could agree on the matter.

Biden is also expected to discuss economic concerns brought on by Chinese manufacturing overcapacity, how to use artificial intelligence in a way that maximizes benefits but still manages national security risks, and global migration.

The U.S. and other G7 nations are struggling to manage large influxes of migrants arriving for complicated reasons that include war, climate change and drought. Migration, and how nations cope with the growing numbers at their borders, has been a factor driving the far-right rise in some of Europe.

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Superville reported from Bari, Italy.

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