By JILL LAWLESS and AAMER MADHANI
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The war in Ukraine was top of U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's agenda Wednesday as he started a two-day trip to Washington carrying the message that post-Brexit Britain remains an essential American ally in a world of emboldened authoritarian states.
The U.S. and U.K. are the two biggest military donors to Ukraine, and the war will be the focus of Sunak's meeting Thursday at the White House with President Joe Biden.
Britain and the U.S. are lead players in an international effort to give Ukraine F-16 fighter jets, and talks are also likely to include extra air defense measures against Russian bombardment as Ukraine launches a counteroffensive to retake occupied territory.
Sunak began his visit by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to mark U.S.-U.K. military ties. The trip is Sunak's first to the U.S. capital since he took office in October, but his fourth meeting with Biden in as many months. The two leaders have crossed paths at a Group of Seven summit in Japan, in Northern Ireland and at a three-way defense meeting with Australia in San Diego.
Sunak, 43, and 80-year-old Biden are very different politicians. Sunak is an heir of free marketeer Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and wary of big government interventions in the economy such as Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, a huge package of tax breaks and subsidies aimed at boosting green industries.
But he's also pragmatic, and has restored stability to Britain's government after the turbulent terms of predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Johnson championed the populist Brexit movement and led Britain out of the European Union, a decision Biden has made clear he thinks has hurt the U.K. Truss was in office for less than two months, resigning after her rash tax-cutting plans sparked a financial crisis.
Sunak, who was chosen by the governing Conservatives to replace Truss, has reassured Washington by smoothing relations with the EU, striking a deal with Brussels to resolve a long-festering dispute over Northern Ireland trade.
In his meeting with Biden, Sunak will push for closer economic ties between the U.S. and U.K., arguing that economic cooperation is as crucial to security as defense alliances.
"Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead," Sunak said ahead of the talks.
A British government official who previewed Sunak's agenda on condition of anonymity said Sunak wants to discuss ways to protect supply chains from hostile actors and how to ensure China doesn't corner the market on producing semiconductors and other key parts.
He won't, however, push for a U.K.-U.S. free trade agreement. U.K. officials accept that long-cherished goal of Brexit supporters is currently on ice.
Sunak is also likely to lobby for U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to become the next head of NATO after Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg steps down in September. The prime minister is expected to stress that the next secretary-general should be someone who "carries on Stoltenberg's good work of modernization but also understands the importance of defense spending at this critical time."
Sunak is also due to meet U.S. business executives and hold talks with congressional leaders, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday evening he'll attend a Washington Nationals baseball game -- though he won't throw out the opening pitch, to the disappointment of the British media.