As Putin Meeting Nears, Biden Says U.S. Does Not Seek ‘Conflict’

As Putin Meeting Nears, Biden Says U.S. Does Not Seek ‘Conflict’

14/06 The U.S. leader attended his first NATO summit as president. The 30 member nations singled out China’s rising military power as presenting “challenges.”

As NATO leaders wrapped up a one-day summit and his meeting with Vladimir V. Putin neared, President Biden said Monday that the United States is not looking for confrontation with the Kremlin.

“What I’ll convey to President Putin is that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities,” Mr. Biden said at a news conference in Brussels. “And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values.”

The two leaders are to meet in Geneva on Wednesday amid a period of rising tensions between the United States and Russia.

Earlier, some NATO leaders were said to have expressed concerns that just by meeting with the Russian president, Mr. Biden risked appearing to reward him, despite Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Mr. Biden said that was not the case.

“Every world leader here, as a member of NATO, has spoken today, and most have mentioned it, thanked me for meeting with Putin now,” he said.

Skeptics say that the new United States president, his sights set squarely on the challenges posed by the rise of China, may be “sleepwalking” into an unwise rapprochement with a power that many European leaders view as their principal threat.

NATO leaders, who are gathering at a summit meeting on Monday, have usually gone out of their way to adjust to the strategic priorities of the group’s most powerful member, the United States. But the issue of China is more problematic, because NATO is a regional military alliance of Europe and North America. Its main concern remains a newly aggressive Russia — not distant China.

China is expanding military exercises with Russia, sending its ships into the Mediterranean. It also has a base in Africa. So it has gotten NATO’s attention.

But NATO member states from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Germany, are concerned that a new concentration on China will divert alliance attention and resources from the problem closer to home.

Russia has invaded Ukraine and stationed thousands of troops on its borders. It has poisoned and imprisoned dissidents at home, and abroad has hacked Western governments and companies and propped up President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s even more oppressive Belarus.

Russia has also developed sophisticated new intermediate-range missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and modernized its armed forces significantly, making Europe more vulnerable.

“Even though European opinion is becoming more hawkish toward China, European countries are concerned with getting onboard with an overly confrontational U.S. approach,’’ said Michal Baranowski, the director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund.

There is new concern, he said, after Mr. Biden decided to waive sanctions on companies involved in finishing the controversial natural-gas pipeline between Russia and Germany called Nord Stream 2.

In Poland, Mr. Baranowski said, “there is increased worry and the perception that Washington is going soft on Putin and sleepwalking into a reset with Russia.”

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