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South Korea will consider supplying arms to Ukraine after Russia and North Korea sign strategic pact

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South Korea will consider supplying arms to Ukraine after Russia and North Korea sign strategic pact
News

News

South Korea will consider supplying arms to Ukraine after Russia and North Korea sign strategic pact

2024-06-20 22:47 Last Updated At:22:50

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Thursday that it would consider sending arms to Ukraine, a major policy change suggested after Russia and North Korea rattled the region and beyond by signing a pact to come to each other’s defense in the event of war.

The comments from a senior presidential official came hours after North Korea’s state media released the details of the agreement, which observers said could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War. It comes at a time when Russia faces growing isolation over its war in Ukraine and both countries face escalating standoffs with the West.

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stands during the departure ceremony of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Thursday that it would consider sending arms to Ukraine, a major policy change suggested after Russia and North Korea rattled the region and beyond by signing a pact to come to each other’s defense in the event of war.

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

According to the text of the deal published by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, if either country gets invaded and is pushed into a state of war, the other must deploy “all means at its disposal without delay” to provide “military and other assistance.” But the agreement also says that such actions must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes a U.N. member state’s right to self-defense.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the pact at a summit Wednesday in Pyongyang. Both described it as a major upgrade of bilateral relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian ties.

The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement condemning the agreement, calling it a threat to the South’s security and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and warned that it would have negative consequences on Seoul’s relations with Moscow.

“It’s absurd that two parties with a history of launching wars of invasion — the Korean War and the war in Ukraine — are now vowing mutual military cooperation on the premise of a preemptive attack by the international community that will never happen,” Yoon’s office said.

At the United Nations in New York, South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul called it “deplorable” that Russia would act in violation of multiple U.N. sanctions resolutions against North Korea that Moscow voted for.

Yoon’s national security adviser, Chang Ho-jin, said Seoul would reconsider the issue of providing arms to Ukraine to help the country fight off Russia’s invasion.

South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine while joining U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms to Kyiv, citing a longstanding policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.

The summit between Kim and Putin came as the U.S. and its allies expressed growing concern over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Following their summit, Kim said the two countries had a “fiery friendship,” and that the deal was their “strongest-ever treaty,” putting the relationship at the level of an alliance. He vowed full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin called it a “breakthrough document” reflecting shared desires to move relations to a higher level.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961, which experts say necessitated Moscow’s military intervention if the North came under attack. The deal was discarded after the collapse of the USSR, replaced by one in 2000 that offered weaker security assurances.

There’s ongoing debate on how strong of a security commitment the deal entails. While some analysts see the agreement as a full restoration of the countries’ Cold War-era alliance, others say the deal seems more symbolic than substantial.

Ankit Panda, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the text appeared to be carefully worded as to not imply automatic military invention.

But "the big picture here is that both sides are willing to put down on paper, and show the world, just how widely they intend to expand the scope of their cooperation,” he said.

The deal was made as Putin visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years, a trip that showcased their personal and geopolitical ties with Kim hugging Putin twice at the airport, their motorcade rolling past giant Russian flags and Putin portraits, and a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang’s main square attended by what appeared to be tens of thousands of spectators.

According to KCNA, the agreement also states that Pyongyang and Moscow must not enter into agreements with third parties if they infringe on the “core interests” of any of them and must not participate in actions that threaten those interests.

KCNA said the agreement requires the countries to take steps to prepare joint measures for the purpose of strengthening their defense capabilities to prevent war and protect regional and global peace and security. The agency didn’t specify what those steps are, or whether they would include combined military training and other cooperation.

The agreement also calls for the countries to actively cooperate in efforts to establish a “just and multipolar new world order,” KCNA said, underscoring how the countries are aligning in face of their separate confrontations with the United States.

How the pact affects Russia's relations with the South is a key development to watch, said Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington and director of the North Korea-focused 38 North website.

“Seoul had already signed onto sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, souring its relations with Moscow. Now with any ambiguity of Russia’s partnership with North Korea removed, how will Seoul respond?” she said. “Is there a point where it decides to cut or suspend diplomatic ties with Russia or expel its ambassador? And have we reached it?”

Kim in recent months has made Russia his priority as he pushes a foreign policy aimed at expanding relations with countries confronting Washington, embracing the idea of a “new Cold War” and trying to display a united front in Putin’s broader conflicts with the West.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the U.S., South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stands during the departure ceremony of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un stands during the departure ceremony of Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin drives along a street in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, attend a gala concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

North Korea's people attend the official welcome ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, rear left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, both are on the podium, attend the official welcome ceremony at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov attends the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk to each other during their tete-a-tete meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a State Reception after their talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

In this photo provided Thursday, June 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center left, review an honor guard during the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, June 19. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo after the official welcome ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Putin and Kim signed a new partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked, during a Wednesday summit that came as both face escalating standoffs with the West. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WOODSTOCK, England (AP) — Leaders from across Europe gathered at a grandiose English country mansion on Thursday for a summit clouded by worries about whether the United States would remain a reliable ally if Donald Trump wins a second presidency.

Newly elected U.K. Prime Minister Keir Starmer welcomed some 45 heads of government to discuss migration, energy security and the threat from Russia as he seeks to restore relations between the U.K. and its European Union neighbors four years after their acrimonious divorce.

Starmer told the European Political Community gathering that the U.K. plans to take a more active role on the world stage, especially when it comes to Ukraine's fight against Russia’s invasion and to people-smuggling gangs organizing irregular migration.

He told fellow leaders that under his government the U.K. would be “a friend and a partner, ready to work with you — not part of the European Union, but very much part of Europe. Not focused on the differences between us, but on the values that we share."

“Our first task here today is to confirm our steadfast support for Ukraine, to unite once again behind those values that we cherish and to say we will face down aggression on this continent together,” he said, adding that the threat from Russia “reaches right across Europe.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a key guest at the meeting, aimed at shoring up Europe’s support for his country’s defense and discussing ways to defend democracy. The U.K. accuses Moscow of seeking to undermine European democracies with cyberattacks, disinformation and sabotage.

When Britain agreed earlier this year to hold the one-day summit, Conservative leader Rishi Sunak was prime minister. His defeat in a July 4 election means it’s Starmer who welcomed leaders to Blenheim Palace, a Baroque country house that was the birthplace of World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“It’s an incredibly useful occasion for Keir Starmer, because it gives him the chance to get to know a lot of European leaders,” said Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Government think tank. “It’s like Rishi Sunak organized a dating party for him.”

The guest list includes German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The meeting is the fourth for the EPC group, a brainchild of Macron. It was established in 2022 as a forum for countries both inside and outside the 27-nation EU after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine shattered Europe’s sense of security. Previous meetings of the group have been held in the Czech capital, Prague; Chisinau, Moldova; and Granada, Spain.

The U.K. hopes this will be the best-attended summit to date, though EU chief Ursula von der Leyen stayed away as she fights to secure a second term as European Commission president from lawmakers in the European Parliament. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also a no-show.

Starmer’s center-left government aims to rebuild ties with the EU strained by years of ill-tempered wrangling over Brexit divorce terms. A key priority is a new U.K.-EU security pact that Starmer hopes to strike soon.

“We are confident that a new chapter will be opened with the U.K.,” European Council President Charles Michel said as he arrived.

The U.K. plans to work more closely with the European police agency Europol against people smuggling, part of measures to beef up border security following Starmer’s decision to scrap the Conservatives’ contentious and unrealized plan to send migrants arriving in the U.K. by boat on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

Delegates gathered at Blenheim Palace, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of London, will be treated to full British hospitality, including strawberries with cream and a reception hosted by King Charles III.

Many thoughts will likely stray to the U.S., where the weekend assassination attempt on Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, underscored how febrile and polarized politics has become ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Trump’s skepticism about NATO has long worried U.S. allies. Trump’s choice of Sen. JD Vance, an opponent of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, as vice presidential running mate has heightened concerns.

“European countries must stand on their own legs more than ever,” said Netherlands Prime Minister Dick Schoof.

That sentiment was echoed by several other leaders, but not by Hungary's pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has riled other EU nations with a series of rogue meetings with foreign leaders about Ukraine, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Orban said a Trump victory would be “the best news for everybody, because he's a man of the people.”

Associated Press journalist Sylvain Plazy in Brussels contributed to this story.

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks during the first plenary session, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks during the first plenary session, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, before the start of the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, before the start of the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

Britain's Prime minister Keir Starmer, centre, makes remarks at the opening plenary session during the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. From the left is the Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister of Britain Keir Starmer, Charles Michel President of the Council of Europe and President of Moldova Maia Sandu (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

Britain's Prime minister Keir Starmer, centre, makes remarks at the opening plenary session during the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. From the left is the Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister of Britain Keir Starmer, Charles Michel President of the Council of Europe and President of Moldova Maia Sandu (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, before the start of the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, gestures as he speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, before the start of the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister of the Netherlands Dick Schoof arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/PA via AP, Pool)

Prime Minister of the Netherlands Dick Schoof arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/PA via AP, Pool)

Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban gestures as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban gestures as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives at the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, Pool)

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives at the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, Pool)

Britain's Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, is welcomed by Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, to the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, Pool)

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, is welcomed by Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, to the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday, July 18, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP, Pool)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

The President of France Emmanuel Macron listens to British Prime Minister Keir Starmer during the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England , Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

The President of France Emmanuel Macron listens to British Prime Minister Keir Starmer during the first plenary session at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England , Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

Britain's Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, greets France's President Emmanuel Macron as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, right, greets France's President Emmanuel Macron as he arrives to attend the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, Thursday July 18, 2024. (Jacob King/Pool Photo via AP)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, speaks during the first plenary session, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England , Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, right, speaks during the first plenary session, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, at the European Political Community meeting in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England , Thursday, July 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, Pool)

FILE - A view of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, March 24, 2009. Leaders from across Europe gather at an English country mansion on Thursday, July 18, 2024, for a summit overshadowed by worries about whether the United States will remain a reliable ally if Donald Trump secures a second presidency. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP, File)

FILE - A view of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, March 24, 2009. Leaders from across Europe gather at an English country mansion on Thursday, July 18, 2024, for a summit overshadowed by worries about whether the United States will remain a reliable ally if Donald Trump secures a second presidency. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP, File)

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