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Starmer flexes diplomatic muscles at NATO summit – his first overseas visit as PM

Less than a week after becoming prime minister, Sir Keir has joined other world leaders in Washington DC for the summit marking 75 years since NATO was formed.

It is expected to focus on reassuring Ukraine of the alliance’s support after Russia carried out strikes on Ukrainian cities on Monday, hitting a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

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Leaders from NATO partner countries are also at the summit, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Meeting the Ukrainian leader, Sir Keir said that while there had been a “change of government”, there was “no change of approach” to the UK’s support for the war against Russia.

The meeting comes after his defence secretary travelled to Ukraine less than 48 hours after the election.

Sir Keir said the summit has meant a series of meetings that would normally take months to arrange could happen within the first week of his premiership.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has been made the minister for European relations, has joined Sir Keir in Washington, along with Foreign Secretary David Lammy and Defence Secretary John Healey.

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The PM’s first meeting was with Germany’s Olaf Scholz, who posted a picture of the pair on social media and wrote: “Great to see you at NATO summit, Keir Starmer.

“Friends. Partners. Allies.”

Sir Keir told reporters he wants to take full advantage of the diplomatic opportunities.

“We get the opportunity to strengthen our relations with various … NATO leaders and others obviously that are there, including EU leaders,” he said.

“Now that is a follow up, if you like, on some of the phone calls that I’ve already had with international leaders that I’ve been doing since the King invited me to form a government.”

The PM, who wants to improve trading relations with the EU as well as greater defence co-operation, said he thinks there is “scope for a significant improving of our defence and security relationship with the EU”.

Defence spending has also been a key issue at NATO, with Sir Keir urging fellow NATO members to increase their funding.

He said a sweeping review of the UK’s defence and security will begin next week to set out a “roadmap” to increasing the UK’s defence spending to 2.5% of GDP.

Sir Keir did not set a date to reach that target, but the armed forces minister, Luke Pollard, said on Wednesday it will aim to complete the review in less than a year.

The summit comes as US Democrats fear Donald Trump could replace Joe Biden as the US president faces questions over his health.

Mr Trump has repeatedly called for European nations to ramp up defence spending if they want to continue to enjoy the protection of the US.

The UK is hosting a European Political Community (EPC) gathering next week, which will also provide early opportunities for face-to-face talks on the future of the UK’s relationship with its neighbours.

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