Biden defends ‘difficult’ decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine

President Biden on Friday defended his decision to provide Ukraine with cluster weapons, which many of America’s closest allies have denounced as illegal, saying it was a difficult decision but that “the Ukrainians have the power” in the fight against Russian forces. Running out of ammunition”.

For months, Mr. Biden struggled with the decision to supply the weapons, which scatter small, deadly bombs across the battlefield. They have been known to cause serious injuries months or even years after a fight has ended, often in children who pick up objects that did not explode when initially dropped.

Ultimately, the president decided that depriving Ukraine of arms would be tantamount to leaving it defenseless against Russia. He said that keeping Ukraine occupied was a temporary measure until production of conventional artillery ammunition increased.

“It was a very difficult decision on my part – and by the way, I discussed it with my colleagues, I discussed it with my friends on the Hill,” Mr. Biden said in a interview with cnn, “The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.”

He continued, “And so, ultimately what I did was I took the Defense Department’s recommendation to — not permanently — but to allow for this transition period.”

The decision was a break with many of America’s closest allies and was criticized by Democrats, who expressed concern that the weapons threatened the moral reputation of the United States. The move could also complicate efforts to show unity when Mr. Biden attends a NATO summit in Lithuania next week.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dodged a question on whether he believed it would be wise for the United States to provide arms to Ukraine.

“It is up to the individual allies to decide on the delivery of arms and military supplies to Ukraine,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. “So that decision has to be made by the governments – not NATO as an alliance.”

US officials have noted that Russia has been using its cluster weapons in Ukraine for most of the war. The Ukrainians have also used them, and President Volodymyr Zelensky is pressing Mr. Biden to supply them more in order to draw out Russians trapped in the trenches and prevent a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House on Friday that Ukraine made a direct appeal for arms several weeks ago.

Mr Sullivan said, “Ukraine will not use these weapons on any foreign land.” “It is their country they are protecting. These are the citizens they are protecting, and they are motivated to use any weapon systems they have in a way that minimizes the risk to those citizens.”

Mr Sullivan said the Ukrainians had promised to use the weapons in a way that would protect civilians, but added that there were no guarantees.

“The battlefield is changing all the time,” he said.

Many of the United States’ allies supporting Ukraine have drawn a line in providing cluster munitions. Germany and France are among more than 100 countries that have signed a treaty banning the weapons; The United States, Russia and Ukraine have not.

The United States never joined the agreement because officials believed that cluster munitions could be useful on the battlefield. The United States used cluster munitions during the war in Iraq, according to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, a campaign that calls for an end to the weapons’ use. Saudi Arabia used US-made cluster munitions during the war in Yemen until the United States halted the transfer amid concerns of harm to civilians.

US allies reacted with caution to Mr Biden’s decision on Friday.

While Germany and France did not criticize the United States or oppose the move, the countries said they would not follow through.

The Pentagon said Friday that the administration’s decision would make thousands of cluster munitions immediately available to Ukraine at a critical time as Ukraine begins a months-long offensive.

To approve the weapons for Ukraine, Mr. Biden had to waive a law that prohibits transfers of weapons that have a failure rate of more than 1 percent.

In a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon, Colin H. Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said that the rate of munitions being shipped to Ukraine was low.

“These munitions are very close to 1 percent, but they are not at the 1 percent level,” he said. “But the president has the authority to waive that requirement on grounds of national security, and that’s what he did in this case.”

Acknowledging the moral and diplomatic sensitivities of sending weapons to Ukraine, which are banned by most of Washington’s allies, Mr. Kahl said the Russians are already using cluster weapons indiscriminately, with failure rates of up to 40 percent on the battlefield. posing a great risk to civilians. Ukraine, he said, wants to use the same weapons to defend its territory and understands the risks of doing so.

Mr. Kahl also said that the United States would work with Ukraine to reduce the risks associated with cluster weapons. In particular, the Ukrainian government has stated that it would not use the rounds in densely populated urban areas, and that the use of the rounds would facilitate post-conflict mining efforts.

“There will be careful accounting of where they use these weapons,” Mr. Kahl said.

Since World War II, cluster munitions have killed an estimated 56,500 to 86,500 civilians. They also killed and wounded several American service members. Additional civilians, including children, in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Balkans and Laos have suffered from incidents involving remnants of cluster munitions.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday Decision “It will significantly help us to remove the occupation from our territories while saving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.”

On Capitol Hill, many Democrats criticized the decision, arguing that the weapons could continue to indiscriminately harm civilians long after the fighting had ended.

“I strongly support helping Ukraine stand up against Russia’s brutal war of aggression,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said in a statement. “But cluster munitions won’t help.”

However, some Republicans who spoke on Friday about Mr Biden’s decision praised him for taking what they said was a necessary step.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in a statement, “Defeating Putin’s offensive requires Ukrainian forces to have at least equal access to weapons that Russia already uses against them, such as cluster munitions. ” “Delivering this new capability is the right decision – even if it will take a long time – and one I have long supported.”

lara jax, Karoun DemirjianZolan Kanno-Youngs and john ismay Contributed reporting.

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