Biden apologizes to Zelenskiy for congressional delays to US aid

By Jeff Mason

PARIS (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Paris on Friday, apologized for congressional delays in approving the latest U.S. aid package, and announced a fresh $225 million tranche on the sidelines of D-Day events.

The meeting was their first face-to-face encounter since Zelenskiy visited Washington in December, when the two pressed Republicans to overcome opposition in their party to more support for Ukraine.

They will meet again next week at a G7 summit in Italy, as rich Western nations discuss using Russian assets frozen after the Ukraine invasion to provide $50 billion for Ukraine.

Zelenskiy told Reuters last month that Western countries are taking too long to make decisions about aid.

"You haven't bowed down, you haven't yielded at all, you continue to fight in a way that is ... just remarkable," Biden told the Ukrainian leader at the start of their meeting on Friday. "We're not going to walk away from you."

Biden apologized to Zelenskiy for the delays before the last U.S. aid package passed in Congress in April. He confirmed he was signing an additional tranche of $225 million on Friday to help Ukraine reconstruct its electric grid.

"I apologize for … those weeks of not knowing" what’s going to happen in terms of funding, Biden said. “Some of our very conservative members (of Congress) were holding it up. But we got it done, finally.”

"We're still in, completely, totally," Biden said.

Zelenskiy thanked Biden for U.S. military, financial and humanitarian support.

"It's very important that you stay with us. This bipartisan support with the Congress, it's very important that in this unity, United States of America, all American people stay with Ukraine, like it was during World War Two, how United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe," he said in English.

In remarks in Normandy, France, on Thursday, Biden drew a link between the World War Two battle against tyranny and Ukraine's war with Russia, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a tyrant.

Ukraine has struggled to defend the Kharkiv region after an offensive launched by Moscow on May 10 overran some villages.

The new security package includes air defense interceptors, artillery systems and munitions, armored vehicles, anti-tank weapons, and other capabilities, and will also help strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses and reinforce Ukrainian capabilities across the front lines, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Biden last week shifted his position and decided Ukraine could launch U.S.-supplied weapons at military targets inside Russia that are supporting the Kharkiv offensive.

The United States is trying to catch up with Ukraine's weaponry needs, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said in Washington on Thursday.

"If there were two things that we could provide an infinite number of to the Ukrainians to try to turn the tide in this war, it would be artillery munitions and air defense interceptors," but the U.S. lacked supply, Finer told a forum by the Center for a New American Security.

Outside the physical battlefield, the Russia-Ukraine war is "also a competition that takes place in our factories, the factories in Europe, the factories in Ukraine,” he said.

Reaching consensus on the frozen assets has been complicated, Daleep Singh, the U.S. administration's deputy national security adviser for international economics, told the same group.

"We're waist-deep in the sausage-making of trying to strike a deal," said Singh, adding that he was heading back to Italy on Friday to continue the negotiations.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Paris and Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Leslie Adler)