U.S. President Joe Biden to host world leaders for dinner at NATO summit

WASHINGTON, D. C., Ont. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to meet with his NATO counterparts Wednesday ahead of a dinner at the White House, where the U.S. president is expected to host leaders of the defensive alliance.

Concerns over Joe Biden's health and the possibility of a second Donald Trump presidency have already cast a shadow over the three-day leaders' summit in Washington, D.C.

The 81-year-old current president's age and mental acuity are under international scrutiny after a disastrous debate performance last month against Trump.

Biden delivered a clear and forceful speech at NATO's 75th anniversary celebration Tuesday evening at a critical time for the Democratic leader and for stability in his party. With the eyes of the world watching, it was an important moment for Biden to prove he was capable of being in charge.

But the demands of the summit have just begun. Biden's team has said the president is sharpest earlier in the day and tries to avoid events after 8 p.m. That is when Wednesday's dinner with the NATO leaders is set to begin.

Trudeau did not answer a question from reporters Tuesday about whether he has concerns with the president's health.

The prime minister is facing his own pressures during the summit, where Ukraine's ongoing battle with Russia is taking top billing.

There has also been increasing pressure from American politicians, who are publicly taking note of the fact Canada is falling far short of its defence spending commitments.

NATO allies have agreed to spend at least the equivalent of two per cent of their national gross domestic product on defence. Canada's current spend is around 1.37 per cent.

Trudeau tried to get ahead of the criticism during a speech Tuesday in which he said the Liberal government has been following through on promises to drastically increase defence spending since it came into power.

Since 2014, the defence budget has grown by more than 57 per cent, and is estimated at $29.9 billion for this year.

The only NATO countries that spend more are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey.

Still, a decade after first pledging to meet the two per cent target, Canada is an outlier because it has not reached the target and has not presented a plan to do so.

And the issue is likely to continue following Trudeau across his encounters with international counterparts as the summit gets underway in earnest on Wednesday.

In the morning, Trudeau met with new Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof and with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is not a NATO leader but is taking part in the alliance's Indo-Pacific working groups.

His schedule for the day also includes a meeting with the leaders of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

The 32 allies are set to gather for a North Atlantic Council meeting after a welcome ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press