President Biden said in an interview that aired on Sunday that Ukraine was not ready for membership in NATO and that it was “premature” to begin the process to allow Ukraine to join the alliance in the middle of a war.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Mr. Biden said that he did not “think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now,” and that the process could take place only after a peace agreement with Russia was in place.
“If the war is going on, then we’re all in war,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the alliance’s commitment to mutual defense. “We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.” He added that there would be “other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization,” for Ukraine to be considered for membership.
The president began a trip to Europe on Sunday that will include attending a NATO summit in Lithuania, where Russia’s war in Ukraine — and a decision last week by the United States to supply Kyiv with weapons that are banned by most of its allies — will be a main focus.
Mr. Biden said in the interview that he had warned President Xi Jinping of China about growing too close to Russia. He added that after the Chinese leader met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in March, Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Xi and reminded him that scores of American corporations had pulled out of Russia since the war began.
“He didn’t argue,” Mr. Biden said. “And if you notice, he has not gone full-bore” on Russia.
Mr. Biden also defended his decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions, which are outlawed by many of America’s closest allies. He said it was a difficult decision, but with artillery supplies dwindling, it was a choice between supplying the weapons or leaving Ukraine defenseless.
“It was a very difficult decision on my part — and by the way, I discussed this with our allies, I discussed this with our friends up on the Hill,” Mr. Biden said. “The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.”
Another topic of discussion at the NATO summit will be Sweden’s interest in joining the alliance. Mr. Biden, who met with the Swedish prime minister last week, said he was “optimistic” that Sweden was closer to entrance into the group, despite opposition from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. (But Mr. Erdogan does support the admission of Ukraine: He said on Saturday, with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at his side, that “Ukraine deserves NATO membership with no doubt.”)
Mr. Biden, who is 80 and running for re-election, also addressed concerns about his age.
“I think we’re putting the world together in a way that is going to make things significantly, how can I say it, more secure for people,” Mr. Biden said. “I just want to finish the job. And I think we can do that in the next six years.”
Safak Timur contributed reporting from Istanbul.