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How it happened: Zelensky’s surprise visit to DC was months in the making

In previous calls, Zelenskyy had indicated to Biden and other senior officials that the United States was the first country he wanted to visit when the time was right for him to travel, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the conversations. So in a Dec. 11 phone call between the two leaders, Biden reiterated the invitation.

This time, Zelenskyy told Biden, was the right time.

“I really wanted to come earlier. Mr. President knows about it, but I couldn’t do it because the situation was so difficult,” Zelenskyy said from the Oval Office on Wednesday. The trip could happen now, the Ukrainian leader said, because “we controlled the situation and … first of all, because of your support.”

The behind-the-scenes details of Zelenskyy’s surprise visit to Washington were described by an aide to Pelosi, a U.S. official and a senior administration official, all of whom requested anonymity to describe planning for the secret trip. Once the wheels of planning started to roll, Zelenskyy’s 10-hour visit — which packed in an Oval Office meeting with Biden, a joint news conference at the White House and an address to a largely supportive Congress — came together quickly.

After the two presidents discussed the trip on Dec. 11, the White House extended a formal invite on Dec. 14, according to the senior administration official. Zelenskyy accepted the invitation on Friday, and the visit was confirmed two days later, at which point White House officials notified Pelosi’s office of the Ukrainian leader’s travel plans.

“I’m delighted you were able to make the trip to be here,” Biden told Zelenskyy on Wednesday. “It’s an honor to be by your side in united defense against what is a brutal, brutal war being waged by Putin.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of
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