White House promises break from Bush

US Vice President Joe Biden has promised a sharp break from the go-it-alone policies of the George W Bush era in the first major foreign and security policy speech by the new administration.
Addressing the 45th Munich Conference on Security Policy, also known as the Wehrkunde Conference, Biden said President Barack Obama was determined to “set a new tone” in Washington and with its allies.
Reuters reports that the US deputy president focused on relations with Moscow, badly strained by Russia’s brief war last year with Georgia and US plans to put a missile shield in central Europe in a wide-ranging 25-minute address.
“It’s time, to paraphrase President Obama, to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together,” he said.
“I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America’s relations around the world. That new tone – rooted in strong partnerships to meet common challenges – is not a luxury. It is a necessity,” the US leader added according to the Chinese Xinhua agency.
Biden conceded that Washington and Moscow would not agree on everything, citing the Georgia conflict and referring to Russia’s resistance to its neighbours joining NATO.
“We will not recognise any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances,” Biden said. “But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide and they coincide in many places.”

In the audience as Biden spoke were the leaders of Germany and France as well as the deputy prime minister of Russia — all countries that clashed with former President George W. Bush over his invasion of Iraq six years ago.

At this same conference in 2003, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer stared down Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, telling him he was “not convinced” by the US case for war.

Reuters said the atmosphere this year was “far less tense”.

European countries broadly welcomed Obama’s election and Biden’s presence at a conference normally attended by the US defence secretary sent an important signal to Europe that the Obama administration was keen to rebuild relations.
“We will engage. We will listen. We will consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America,” Biden said.

In a jibe at the policies of Bush, he vowed to end torture, close the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba and advance democracy “not through its imposition by force from the outside, but by working with moderates” in foreign governments.

Biden urged a united effort by the international community to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear programme, which the West believes is a cover to build an atomic bomb and Tehran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy threatened, before Biden’s speech, to introduce new, tougher sanctions against Tehran if it did not meet western demands.
“We are willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon your illicit nuclear programme and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives,” Biden said.

But while Biden promised to consult and listen more to allies, he also said Washington would ask for more from them, for example by taking in inmates from Guantanamo, which Obama has said will be closed within a year. “America will do more. That’s the good news. The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well.”

Biden also stopped short of promising a review of US missile shield plans, as some had speculated before the conference and as Moscow has demanded. “We will continue to develop missile defences to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective,” he said, adding that it would be done in consultation NATO allies and Russia.

Moscow has sent contradictory signals over what kind of relationship it wants with the new administration — first suspending the deployment of missiles on its Polish border, and then appearing to engineer the closure of an important U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Chinese take
Xinhua added that the Obama administration is planning to send as many as 30 000 more US troops to Afghanistan, and has made no secret that it wants Europe to increase its involvement there.
Germany and France have been reluctant to do so. Xinhua says the German government is particularly cautious on the issue ahead of September general elections.
German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung told Americans on Sunday that more efforts should be spent in reconstruction and police training in Afghanistan, saying that “we will not win by military means alone.”
Commenting on some European nations’ reluctance to provide more troops to Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Saturday that it was not the right balance within NATO. New transatlantic relations not only need joint leadership, but also need the sharing of joint responsibilities.     ”If Europe wants a greater voice, it needs to do more,” he said.
The Chinese state news service further noted that “the more than 350 participants to the Munich conference agreed that with the world fighting the financial crisis, climate change and other global challenges, no single country, no matter how powerful it is, could solve the problems by itself”.
Multilateral cooperation is needed more than ever to address these issues.
“We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America’s power — they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and values,” said Biden. “America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America.”
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called Saturday for a more effective multilateralism to address the global security threats. “To meet today’s global security threats, the European Security Strategy calls for a more effective multilateralism as the only way forward,” said Barroso.
While EU cooperation with the United Nations, NATO and the United States are essential for a more effective multilateralism, Barroso said that “it is time to encourage our other partners to see that they too have an interest in, and responsibility for, the global community because that is the only way we can consolidate and strengthen a stable, multilateral world, governed by internationally-agreed rules.”
Analysts said that the G20 summit on financial crisis in April in London could immediately serve as a test as to how multilateral collaboration could contribute to addressing the lingering issue.