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Biden touts expansion of NATO and actions in the Middle East during West Point commencement

By Aileen Graef, Athena Jones and Shania Shelton, CNN

(CNN) — President Joe Biden touted the expansion of NATO, his actions in the Middle East and progress in lowering military sexual assaults in a commencement address to the West Point graduating class Saturday.

While Biden stayed away from mentioning former President Donald Trump or making an appeal to voters ahead of the November election, he drew a sharp contrast with his Republican rival by underscoring values Democrats have suggested are at risk, such as democracy and the NATO alliance.

“Nothing is guaranteed about our democracy in America,” he said. “Every generation has an obligation to defend it, to protect it, to preserve it, to choose it. Now it’s your turn.”

Speaking to the graduating class of cadets, Biden reiterated the US’ support of Ukraine by saying, “We are standing strong with Ukraine and we will stand with them.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden said NATO was now “the greatest defense alliance in the history of the world – stronger than ever” while praising its newest members, Sweden and Finland.

The president’s speech came as he deals with a delicate balancing act over his support for Israel in its war against Hamas, which has roiled college campuses across the country. The speech also followed a commencement address he gave last weekend at Morehouse College in which he appealed to Black voters while also acknowledging the anguish simmering among young people over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The president on Saturday praised the US military for its work in building a temporary pier off the shore of Gaza, saying it was built “in record time” and “increased life-saving aid to the Palestinians.”

Aid groups began distributing the humanitarian assistance offloaded at the pier to Palestinians this week after encountering significant obstacles on distribution routes that delayed the deliveries.

During the address on Saturday, the president promised he is always “willing to use force by fire” to protect the nation, saying that “if anyone targets American troops we will deliver justice to them.” He cited his ordering of drone strikes against Iranian-backed militants in response to the killing of three US service members in Jordan in January.

Biden also spoke on sexual harassment in the military, saying, “Every member of our armed forces must always be safe and respected in the ranks,” before praising the reduction of reported incidents of sexual assault and harassment in the military.

“For the first time in nearly a decade, rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment have gone down across the active-duty forces,” Biden said. “It’s long past time to end the scourge of sexual violence in the military once and for all, and we can do this.”

CNN’s Avery Lotz and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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