US defense secretary to attend virtual meeting on Ukraine from home By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov shake hands after their meeting, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine November 20, 2023. Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov via X/Handout via R

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will attend a meeting on Ukraine’s military needs virtually from his house, the Pentagon said on Monday, as the defense chief continues to recover from complications of prostate cancer treatment that led to his secret hospitalization.

Austin, 70, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland on Dec. 22 to treat prostate cancer. He returned to the hospital on Jan. 1 due to complications, including a urinary tract infection. His hospitalization was not revealed until four days later, and the Pentagon did not specify why he was being treated until Jan. 9.

Austin’s failure to tell President Joe Biden he was hospitalized drew criticism from lawmakers and caught the White House by surprise.

While Tuesday’s virtual conference will mark Austin’s first public engagement, he will not carry out a press conference alongside the top U.S. general- something common after the monthly meetings that brings together defense leaders from more than 50 countries.

The meeting comes as Republicans in Congress have blocked emergency funding that Biden has requested for Ukraine and threaten to force a partial shutdown of the government in an effort to push new security policies along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said that while the United States was committed to Ukraine, lawmakers needed to pass more funding for Kyiv as it battles Russian forces.

“It’s not just the United States that has been critical and providing security assistance to Ukraine, our partners, our allies continue to do that, despite the fact that we do not have a supplemental that’s been passed by Congress,” Sing told reporters.

Biden has requested $61.4 billion in additional funding to help supply Ukraine with weapons and replenish U.S. stocks as it nears the two-year mark of its war with Russia. The funds sought for Ukraine are part of a “supplemental” request that also includes $14.3 billion for Israel and $13.6 billion for border protection.

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