Biden addresses security summit

US vice-president begins first Europe visit, signalling new priorities in foreign policy.

    The conference has often been the venue for the US to reveal its thinking on foreign policy [AFP]

    He has also called for more help from US allies in Afghanistan and promoted a proposed  $1.5bn aid plan for Pakistan.

    Al Jazeera's Mark Seddon, reporting from Munich, said that leaders at the conference will be paying close attention to Biden's speech on Saturday.
     
    "People will be examining that speech, listening to what's in it and for what's also not in it," he said.
     
    "Because gone are the words: axis of evil, war on terror ... what we will be hearing will be very much about soft power: diplomacy, engagement, multilateralism, all the beloved words of diplomats are coming back.

    Foreign-policy doctrine

    The Munich conference has often been the venue for US administrations to reveal their thinking on foreign-policy doctrine.

    In his speech, Biden is expected to urge allies to join with the US in confronting a wide array of international problems.

    Speculation is rife that Biden will announce a review of the US missile-defence shield [EPA]
    Biden is set to meet Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor; Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister; Yulia Tymoshenko, his Ukrainian counterpart; and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president.

    Speculation is rife in Germany that Biden will announce a review of the US missile defence shield that Bush worked to expand into  Europe.

    Washington says the shield is meant to counter a growing  ballistic missile threat from Iran.

    But the plan has angered  Russia, which sees it as a threat to its own missile capabilities.

    On the sidelines of the conference, Biden will hold talks on Sunday with Sergei Ivanov, the Russian deputy prime minister.

    Russian messages

    Ivanov, for his part, has sent conciliatory messages, saying Moscow would not start new missile deployments if Washington reviewed plans for a missile defence system in central Europe.

    He said Moscow is eager to hold talks on the shield with the Obama administration and is open to a joint assessment of threats with the US.

    In depth
    Separately, the Russian foreign minister has said that Moscow is ready to further reduce its nuclear-missile arsenal in line with its national interests if talks go ahead with Washington on a new treaty.

    "In the last two and a half years of the previous (US) administration we tried to get a clearer reaction to our numerous proposals to start work on a new treaty to replace the START treaty  that expires in December," Sergei Lavrov said on Russian television on Saturday.

    "We are ready to go further along the path of cuts and limits, naturally taking account of Russia's national security interests."

    Transit rights

    In another move, Russia has announced it would grant transit rights to non-lethal US military supplies for Afghanistan.
     
    Such an arrangement would be a potentially important alternative to roads through Pakistan that have increasingly been threatened by Taliban attacks.

    Al Jazeera's Seddon said: "Essentially the Unites States wants to re-engage and the United Nations will be held up as much more sacrosanct and President Obama and his new advisers really want to reach out to a lot of countries that have been regarded as hostile in the past.

    Kyrgyzstan is set to close Manas, the last remaining US air base in Central Asia [AFP]

    "Most importantly for many of Europe's leaders gathered here [would be] a new approach to Russia .. the standoffish approach in the past is to be replaced.
     
    "There is going to be some concrete policy rollouts from this speech but the most important thing is the mood music. There is no doubt there is quite dramatic change afoot."

    Like Russia, Iran too appears to be holding out for a substantial change in US policy towards it.

    Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament and a former nuclear negotiator, told the Munich conference on Friday that Obama's decision to send an envoy to the Middle East to sound out countries in the region is a "positive signal".

    "The US president has announced he will send someone to the Middle East to listen to people and not to dictate," he said. "This approach is a positive signal."

    Obama has named George Mitchell, a former US senator, as his envoy to the Middle East.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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