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U.S. supports "a just and lasting peace" for Ukraine, Harris tells Zelenskyy at Swiss summit

World leaders agree on loan to help Ukraine
Biden, world leaders agree to $50 billion loan to help Ukraine at G7 summit 02:54

Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday pledged America's full support in backing Ukraine and global efforts to achieve "a just and lasting peace" in the face of Russia's invasion, representing the United States at 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 dash from Washington and back, Harris announced $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. That includes money for energy assistance, repairing damaged energy infrastructure, helping refugees and strengthening civilian security in the wake of the aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

Summit on peace in Ukraine at the Buergenstock Resort in Stansstad near Lucerne
Vice President Kamala Harris of the United States (left) shakes hands with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine (right) as they meet for a bilateral talk during the Summit on peace in Ukraine, 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 the leaders from around the world in support of a just and lasting peace." She added that "as we look forward to that peace and work toward that, the United States is committed to helping Ukraine rebuild."

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

That decision to skip the summit on Ukraine spotlights the competing election-year demands facing Biden as he tries to balance a complicated domestic and foreign policy agenda while running against former President Donald Trump. It also reflects the growing profile Harris has found making the case for 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 global stage have been good for her. She looks presidential and very capable among world leaders."

Zelenskyy, for months, publicly lobbied Biden and other world leaders to take part in 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 has increasingly turned to Harris as he tries to reassemble the coalition of voters behind the victory over Trump — and one needed again to help win a second term. Harris has taken a more visible role in making the pitch for Biden to a diverse cross-section of the Democratic base.

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

And she's crisscrossed the country to talk about issues such as marijuana legislation and gun violence as Biden's standing with that winning coalition from 2020 has shown signs of eroding. She squeezed in a visit 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 diminish. About 4 in 10 registered voters have a somewhat or very favorable view of Harris, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. About half have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of her, and about 1 in 10 don't know enough to say. Her favorability ratings are similar to Biden.

The Trump campaign needled Harris for her fill-in role in Switzerland, with spokesperson Karoline Leavitt saying the vice president has "failed thus far at every task she has been given" and "will continue to embarrass our country at the Ukraine summit."

Trump and his allies have occasionally gone after at Harris, suggesting that a vote for Biden is effectively a vote for Harris eventually becoming president.

The White House, in explaining Biden's decision to skip the summit, noted that the president met twice with Zelenskyy in a week — on the sidelines of the G7 summit and the previous week while both were in France to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Russia was not invited to the Swiss summit. Putin on Friday promised to "immediately" order a cease-fire in Ukraine and begin negotiations if Kyiv started withdrawing troops from the four regions annexed by Moscow in 2022 and renounced plans to join NATO. Ukraine called Putin's proposal "manipulative" and "absurd."

Breaking down the U.S.-Ukraine security deal 02:58

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

G7 leaders this week announced a $50 billion loan package for Kyiv that will leverage interest and income from the more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets.

Biden and Zelenskyy on Thursday signed a security agreement that commits the U.S. over 10 years to continued training of Ukraine's armed forces, more cooperation in the production of weapons and military equipment, and greater intelligence sharing.

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

And late last month, Biden eased restrictions that kept Ukraine from using American weaponry to strike inside Russia. This allows strikes into Russia for the limited purpose of defending the second-largest city of Kharkiv, which sits 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border and has been bombarded with attacks launched from inside Russia.

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