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Cameron lobbies old adversary Trump to unlock Ukraine aid

Britain's former Prime Minister, David Cameron, leaves 10, Downing Street after being appointed Foreign Secretary in a Cabinet reshuffle on Nov. 13, 2023, in London.   (Carl Court/Getty Images Europe/TNS)
By Alex Wickham Bloomberg News

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron held a meeting in Florida with Donald Trump, with whom he has clashed in the past over Brexit and NATO, as the UK tries to persuade the presidential candidate’s Republican allies to stop obstructing a commitment to send more U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Their talks late Monday came ahead of Cameron’s trip to Washington to meet Republican lawmakers as well as Biden administration officials. The visit comes at a sensitive time as the UK, France and other nations try to keep the international focus on Ukraine’s battle to repel Russia’s invasion.

U.S. funding is critical to that effort, but a $60 billion aid package has become snarled in intense politicking ahead of the presidential election in November. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has so far declined to call a vote on the funding as he tries to prevent a rebellion from Republican hard-liners who could sink the legislation and even try to oust him as speaker. The Senate has already approved the aid.

Trump is seen as the key to unlocking the Republican opposition, providing the context for Cameron’s visit. Facing an electoral rematch against President Joe Biden in November, Trump is skeptical about providing military support to Ukraine and has suggested giving loans instead of direct funding.

Trump’s campaign said the former president and Cameron discussed issues including the “upcoming U.S. and UK elections, policy matters specific to Brexit, the need for NATO countries to meet their defense spending requirements, and ending the killing in Ukraine.”

The UK argues that U.S. aid is vital to Ukraine’s ability to continue to resist Russian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pleaded for the swift approval of U.S. aid, as his country’s forces wrestle with ammunition shortages and delays in supplies of artillery shells from allies — especially the U.S. — that have left them outgunned against Russia by as much as six to one.

“Speaker Johnson can make it happen in Congress,” Cameron said in a video on X ahead of his U.S. trip. He said his message to the House leader will be: “We need that money, Ukraine needs that money.”

Yet Cameron has a strained history with Trump — in contrast to the warmer ties enjoyed by Cameron’s successor and political rival Boris Johnson, who has also lobbied Trump to step up support for Ukraine.

In late 2015, Cameron — who was UK prime minister at the time — called the then presidential candidate’s proposal to ban Muslims entering the U.S. as “divisive, stupid and wrong.” His intervention prompted Trump to speculate he might not have a “very good relationship” with Cameron.

The pair squared off again over Trump’s public backing for the UK to vote to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum called by Cameron. The Republican candidate’s intervention came as then U.S. President Barack Obama had sided with Cameron’s campaign to remain in the bloc.

Defeat over Brexit cast Cameron into the political wilderness until Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointed him foreign secretary last year. In February Cameron criticized Trump again, this time over his suggestion that the U.S. should not protect NATO countries who don’t spend enough on defense.

NATO is “more essential than ever,” Cameron told reporters, adding that Trump’s remarks were not “responsible or sensible.”

Though Cameron’s meeting with Trump raised eyebrows — at least in the British media — due to their background, it is unlikely to have any impact on the UK’s relationship with the Biden White House. With Britain also gearing up for a general election expected later this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February.