Romanian president says he's open to discussing sending Patriot system to Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden meets Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

BUCHAREST (Reuters) -Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday he was open to discussing sending a Patriot missile system to Ukraine after German appeals to European Union and NATO member states to bolster Ukraine's air defences.

After appeals by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, EU governments were urged last month to supply more badly needed defence systems to Kyiv.

Germany has pledged an additional Patriot battery, while Spain said it will deliver anti-aircraft Patriot missiles.

Other European countries including Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Sweden also have Patriot systems.

"There has been a discussion about who can send Patriot systems to Ukraine over the last few weeks," Iohannis told reporters in Washington after meeting U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.

"President Biden mentioned it ... in our meeting and I said I was open to discussion. I must discuss it in the Supreme Defence Council to see what we can offer and what we can get in return, because it is unacceptable to leave Romania without air defences," Iohannis said.

Romania signed a $4 billion deal to get Patriots in 2017, the NATO and EU state's biggest procurement contract to date, with the first shipment delivered in 2020.

Although Romania only has one battery in operation, Iohannis said the discussions concerned another battery that is nearly operational.

The White House said Biden thanked Romania for its commitment to security in NATO's east, including in the Black Sea region, and applauded its defence investments, which exceed NATO's target of spending at least 2% of GDP.

"The leaders reaffirmed their steadfast support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s senseless aggression, and President Biden expressed his appreciation for Romania’s support to Ukrainian refugees and efforts to move Ukrainian grain to market," the White House said, omitting any mention of Patriot missiles.

Romania, a NATO member since 2004, shares a 650-km (400-mile) border with Ukraine and has had Russian drone fragments stray into its territory repeatedly as Moscow attacks Ukrainian ports just across the Danube River from Romania.

On Tuesday, Iohannis also said he had discussed with Biden his bid for NATO's top job. Iohannis reiterated he was not withdrawing his candidacy despite strong support within the alliance - including from Biden - for outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"Competition is a good thing, two strong candidates because in that way more topics will be up for discussion," he said.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Gerry Doyle)