Biden urges US to protect democracy at key D-Day site

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) has promised to send Mirage 2000 fighter jets to Ukraine and train Ukrainian pilots and mechanics to fly and service them (Ludovic MARIN)
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) has promised to send Mirage 2000 fighter jets to Ukraine and train Ukrainian pilots and mechanics to fly and service them (Ludovic MARIN)

President Joe Biden on Friday urged the United States to protect democracy and follow the example of World War II heroes, in a speech on a clifftop in northern France that was the scene of a bloody confrontation between US troops and occupying Germans on D-Day.

Biden gave the speech on the final day of ceremonies marking 80 years since the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944 that marked a turning point in World War II.

The president is set to face Republican rival and predecessor Donald Trump later this year in elections that commentators predict will subject US democracy to a severe test.

Biden summoned up the ghosts of the heroes of the assault on the Pointe du Hoc, a clifftop promontory where German bunkers were attacked by US troops. No surviving veterans remain alive.

"They (the veterans) are summoning us," he said, against the backdrop of the Channel.

"They ask us, what will we do? They're not asking us to scale these cliffs. They're asking us to stay true to what America stands for."

Biden's speech also came under the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has left war again raging in Europe eight decades after the end of World War II.

There are also fears Trump would scale down US participation in international alliances like NATO and lessen support for Ukraine if he were to win.

"American democracy asks the hardest of things: to believe that we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. So democracy begins with each of us," Biden said.

- 'They did their job' -

Biden, a Democrat, was unmistakably invoking the memory of a famous speech given by late Republican president Ronald Reagan at the Normandy clifftop in 1984, where he saluted the American "boys" of the Pointe du Hoc.

"The rangers who scaled this cliff did not know they would change the world but they did," said Biden.

"They came to a shoreline that none of them would have picked out on a map... But they came, they did their job, they fulfilled their mission... They were part of something greater than themselves."

President Volodymyr Zelensky had earlier on Friday urged the West to do more to achieve a fair peace as Ukraine battles the Russian invasion, telling Biden that Kyiv is counting on "shoulder-to-shoulder" support.

Zelensky told France's parliament he hoped a summit hosted by Switzerland later this month on bringing peace to Ukraine could hasten a fair end to the conflict.

"I am grateful for all you are already doing and it is a lot. But for a fair peace, more must be done," he said.

Meeting Zelensky in Paris after the speech, Biden pledged his support for Ukraine and announced another $225 million in aid to Kyiv.

"We're not going to walk away from you," Biden told Zelensky.

Zelensky thanked him for the "tremendous support", comparing it to the United States coming to Europe's aid during World War II.

- Macron promises fighter jets -

Kyiv has been pushing Europe to increase military support, with Russia gaining the upper hand on the battlefield in recent months, in particular in Ukraine's eastern Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian president warned the French parliament that 80 years after the D-Day landings of World War II, Europe was "unfortunately no longer a continent of peace" owing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Zelensky dismissed that there could be peace in Ukraine based on current front lines, with Russia sometimes deep inside Ukrainian territory.

"Can this war end on the lines that exist now? No. Because there are no lines for evil: not 80 years ago, not now."

"And if someone tries to draw temporary lines, it will only give a pause before a new war."

After his own talks with Zelensky in Paris on Friday evening, President Emmanuel Macron repeated an announcement the day earlier that Paris would transfer Mirage 2000 fighter jets to Ukraine and train Ukrainian pilots and mechanics to fly and service them.

He also said he wanted to "finalise" the creation of a coalition of military instructors to train Ukrainian troops in the coming days, and hoped for Kyiv's EU accession talks to start "by the end of the month".

A raft of EU countries are pressing the 27-nation bloc to formally start the talks on June 25 -- after leaders in December took the landmark decision to open negotiations.

Zelensky wrote on X that he was "grateful to President Macron for always striving to find the best solution to protect us and... Europe".

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