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Biden to outline US foreign policy at security conference

United States Vice-President Joe Biden was on Saturday to give a first sketch of Washington’s foreign policy at a security conference in Germany with key power brokers, including Iran and Russia.

Participants at the annual Munich Security Conference were hoping Biden, on his first trip abroad since taking office with President Barack Obama last month, will outline the new administration’s vision on a range of hot-button issues.

These include Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, US plans for elements of a missile defence shield on Russia’s doorstep in Eastern and Central Europe, and the raging Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Other talking points are nuclear disarmament, the Middle East, the future of the Nato military alliance 20 years after the end of the Cold War, energy security and Iraq.

Biden is travelling with national security adviser General James Jones, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and the top commander of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, General David Petraeus.

On the sidelines of the conference, Biden will make the first moves in the US diplomatic chess game with the Kremlin, in talks on Sunday with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Also attending the conference is Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliamentary speaker and former chief nuclear negotiator, but before coming to Munich Larijani said there would be no face-to-face meeting with the US number two.

Biden was also set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

There will be talks at the conference with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and top Nato officials, according to a schedule released by the White House. On Sunday, Biden will see Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Before leaving for Munich, Biden gave a taster of what to expect, saying Washington would have to be more ”aggressive” in promoting political reform in Iraq.

He also called for more help from other countries in Afghanistan, where Obama has said he will send 20 000 to 30 000 more troops, and promoted a proposed $1,5-billion aid plan for nuclear-armed ally Pakistan.

Biden said there was still a ”long, long way to go” in terms of Afghan security and infrastructure development, but he stressed he was voicing private views as an administration review of policy there was not yet complete.

Biden also sent another signal that Washington may call for more input on Afghanistan from US allies, despite signs of reluctance from key powers in Europe.

”We expect to share [our] commitment with governments and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as our friends and partners,” he said.

Jones told Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview published on Saturday that success in Afghanistan needed more than just extra troops, including stopping the Taliban funding its operations with the opium trade.

Analysts said that Biden might announce a review of a major sticking point in Washington’s ties with Russia — planned installations in Europe that the US says will intercept missiles from ”rogue states” like Iran.

Washington says the shield is meant to counter a growing ballistic missile threat from Iran, but the plan has deeply angered Russia, which sees it as a threat to its own missile capabilities.

This and the prospect of Nato expansion, Russia’s short war with Georgia in August and Moscow’s volatile behaviour as an energy superpower led to a deep chill in relations.

Two years ago Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s president and now the prime minister, used Munich to launch a broadside on former president George Bush’s administration as a reckless ”unipolar” power making the world more dangerous. — AFP



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Simon Sturdee
Simon Sturdee
South Asia news editor for AFP news agency based in Delhi.

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