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Zelenskyy meets world leaders at G-7

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

An eventful meeting of G-7 leaders is underway in Hiroshima, Japan, this weekend. And it's not eventful just because the leaders of the group of seven countries have welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ukraine and Russia are on the agenda, of course, but so too are North Korea, China and what the group calls economic coercion. And for President Joe Biden, intense meetings are playing out on two continents. There's the G-7 summit, but back here in Washington, his aides and Republicans are trying to work out a deal as the debt ceiling deadline gets closer and closer. We're going to unpack all of this with our Asia correspondent Anthony Kuhn and White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Both join me now from Hiroshima. Welcome to you both.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi. Nice to join you.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good to be here.

MCCAMMON: Anthony, let's start with you and with President Zelenskyy. Can you walk us through his schedule while he's in Hiroshima?

KUHN: Right. So President Zelenskyy is expected to join a meeting of G-7 leaders on security issues on Sunday. And he's also expected to meet bilaterally with leaders, including President Biden. He's already met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now, Zelenskyy is just coming off a tour of the same European countries whose leaders are here. And he already got from them a lot of the military hardware he wants for a counteroffensive against Russia. He has not, though, visited Asia or Japan since Russia invaded.

Japan can't give him any weapons. But Japan is trying to serve as a bridge between Asia, Europe and developing nations to rally support for Ukraine. And so far, getting the so-called Global South involved in the Ukraine issue has been a really hard sell. I spoke to Rajan Menon with the think tank Defense Priorities, and he argues that Japan may actually be better positioned than the U.S. to ask for help in defending what the U.S. and Japan call the rules-based international order. Let's hear what he said.

RAJAN MENON: Many in the South are, if not rolling their eyes, then not terribly persuaded by this because they believe the U.S. itself, when convenient, has broken the rules-based international order. So Japan has an easier sell.

KUHN: Now, another thing Japan can do to help is use the symbolism of the venue, Hiroshima, the first city to ever suffer a nuclear attack. Zelenskyy is expected to visit a memorial to the bombing's victims, and Japan can use that to say nuclear weapons must never be used again, especially not by Russia against Ukraine.

MCCAMMON: Scott, let me bring you in here. The big Ukraine policy news out of the summit is that President Biden is suddenly on board with supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. How big of a shift is this for the U.S., Scott?

DETROW: It's pretty major. Remember, in the early days of the war, Biden made it clear he was worried about triggering a broader war with Russia, so he was very careful about what kind of weapons the U.S. was supplying to Ukraine. Those weapons have gotten more and more and more advanced and deadly over time. They've gone from anti-tank and aircraft, shoulder fired rockets to complex long distance missile systems. And now Biden says the U.S. is ready to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s and that the U.S. is beginning conversations with allies about how to transfer fighter jets to the country.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan talked to reporters about this today. He said a couple interesting things. He said the U.S.'s main goal is still to help Ukraine as much as possible while averting World War III, which is always a good goal, and that one part of the calculation when sharing these potent weapons with Ukraine is making it clear that Ukraine cannot use these weapons to attack inside of Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: And the Ukrainians have consistently indicated that they are prepared to follow through on that. And in fact, we have seen them follow through on that with the provision of Western equipment when we have given it to them.

DETROW: And the thinking here is that Russia would react much differently to an attack with NATO-provided weapons inside of Russia than an attack against Russian forces in Ukraine.

MCCAMMON: Quite a balancing act there. Anthony, shifting away from Ukraine and President Zelenskyy, China is another elephant in the room whenever G-7 leaders meet. What did the leaders agree on in terms of their approach to China?

KUHN: Yeah. Well, they did try to craft a unified approach to dealing with China. One of the big talking points was derisking but not decoupling their economies. And what they mean by derisking is national security risks. They don't want to give China a technological or military advantage. So the G-7 communique says G-7 members have no hostile intent. They don't want to thwart China's development. But that's exactly what China believes they're doing. They believe they're using national security as a cover for protectionism, for giving U.S. companies and advantage and they're trying to build international rules and institutions which intentionally shut China out.

This G-7 communique also mentions the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also about - concerns about forced labor in the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang and civil liberties in Hong Kong. Now, as far as China is concerned, all of those are Chinese territories. And by commenting, the G-7 members, China thinks, are just meddling in their internal affairs.

MCCAMMON: And, Scott, as I mentioned, President Biden is also keeping tabs on those critical debt ceiling negotiations here in Washington. What has the president said about whether he thinks they'll ultimately be able to get a deal?

DETROW: He says he's confident that they'll reach a deal. Biden is, of course, cutting this trip short to get back and finish talks. He was supposed to go on to Australia. In fact, he met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese here in Japan today, and he began the meeting by apologizing for cancelling that trip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And, again, I truly apologize to you for having you to come here rather than me being in Australia right now, but we have a little thing going on at home I got to pay attention to.

DETROW: When it comes to that little thing going on, we did hear a lot of mixed messages from the White House today. They began with confident tone, saying there are big differences, but they'll work them out. Then the White House issued a statement blasting Republicans for how they're negotiating. And then Biden told reporters, this is how talks go, and expressed confidence. He, at least, seems calm about it, even though the U.S. is set to run out of money to pay debt as soon as 11 days from now.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. That clock is ticking. That's White House correspondent Scott Detrow, along with NPR's Asia correspondent Anthony Kuhn, both reporting from Hiroshima. Thanks so much to both of you for your reporting.

KUHN: You're welcome, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.