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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who's in the hospital, cancels trip to Brussels

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled a planned trip to Europe, where he expected to meet with other leaders about the war in Ukraine.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Austin will attend by video link instead because he remains in the hospital. The treatment for a bladder issue follows Austin's much debated trip to the hospital for prostate cancer treatment that he disclosed to almost nobody.

INSKEEP: So what's he trying to accomplish with the trip that he's not going to take? Nancy Youssef covers national security for The Wall Street Journal and joins us. Good morning.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How's the secretary doing?

YOUSSEF: We are told he's doing better, that he had surgery yesterday for what the Pentagon described as an emergent bladder issue, and that he is expected to make a recovery and resume normal duties this week. So that's the official statement. Having said that, the secretary is unable to travel to Europe this week, as you mentioned, for the Ukraine contact group. So while they're saying he is ready to resume normal duties, it's clear that there's, at least for now, some limitations on that.

INSKEEP: I'm now curious, having gotten in trouble for not disclosing enough about his health, is he now telling you every little detail about the bladder?

YOUSSEF: Well, we don't know what the exact issue is. We don't know what the surgery was that required his hospitalization on Sunday. And we don't know the details of his prognosis. But it is better than what it was earlier this year, at the start of the year, when the secretary was hospitalized and did not disclose it to anyone, including the president of the United States, for four days. And so it's better in terms of transparency than what we got earlier this year. But I don't know if it's as fully transparent such that the American public has a detailed assessment of his prognosis, which is important because obviously he's in charge of the largest government agency, an $850 billion defense budget.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

YOUSSEF: And he's sixth in line in succession.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the substance of this meeting that he will attend virtually, we are told. What's on the table?

YOUSSEF: The Ukraine contact group is a meeting of 50 nations, and they hold this meeting monthly to determine how to get military aid to Ukraine amongst its allies. This comes at a time when the war has stalled for quite a bit. We've heard from Ukraine that they are really struggling in terms of weapons and munitions, to the point that they're really being very careful in terms of even using basic weapons and holding onto them because they're on such short supply. And so the intent was to come up with some sort of longer-term planning and funding for Ukraine to get it its weapons it needs. I think the hope was that this meeting would get other allies to step up and provide some of that aid as the U.S. holds this ongoing debate about aid to Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Is it a little awkward that the United States wants to lead the coalition that is supporting Ukraine, and the United States is needing to ask other people to do the work that the United States doesn't seem to be in a position to do right now?

YOUSSEF: It is because throughout this war, the United States has been the leader in terms of the amount of aid that is provided and building up the alliance. When this started, it was not a 50-nation alliance. It became so because of the U.S. support. And actually, this group itself was founded by the defense secretary. And he really sort of personified the U.S. role in sort of shoring up aid to Ukraine and support across the alliance.

INSKEEP: Nancy Youssef of The Wall Street Journal. It's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

YOUSSEF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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