Saturday, February 14, 2009

Biden Lays Out U.S. Foreign Policy Goals, Approaches

Vice President Biden says the United States will be guided in its foreign relations by the principle that there is no conflict between its security and its ideals - each reinforces the other.

It is the obligation of the international community "to listen to and learn from one another, and to work together for a common prosperity and security of all," Biden said in a major foreign policy address February 7 to the Munich Conference on Security Policy.

In a 25-minute, midday speech at the 45th annual conference, held at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Biden set out in broad strokes the Obama administration's worldview and the principles that will guide its foreign policy-making. The widely anticipated speech is the first to address President Obama's vision for America's relations with allies and friends.

Customarily the U.S. defense secretary addresses the trans-Atlantic security conference, but Obama dispatched Biden, the former chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to present his plan.

"Our administration rejects a false choice between our safety and our ideals. America will vigorously defend our security and our values, and in doing so we believe we'll all be more secure," Biden said. While the United States pledges to do more, America will ask more from its partners as well, he said.

Biden emphasized that Obama has ordered the terrorist detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, closed within a year. The action was taken by the new president less than 48 hours after he took the oath of office January 20.

"America will not torture. We will uphold the rights of those who we bring to justice," he said.

Attending the three-day conference with Biden are National Security Adviser James Jones, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Army General David Petraeus, who commands U.S. Central Command, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the White House said.

Biden said an essential principle the Obama administration will follow is to work with its partners whenever possible and work alone only if it must.

"The threats we face have no respect for borders. No single country, no matter how powerful, can best meet these threats alone," he said. "We believe international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power - we believe they help advance our collective security, economic interests and our values."

"We'll engage. We'll listen. We'll consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America."


The United States is currently reviewing its policies toward Iran, and the United States is willing to talk to Iran, Biden said.

But the United States offers "a very clear choice: continue down the current course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives," Biden said. Iran has not acted in ways that are conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its own people, he said.

"Its illicit nuclear program is but one of those manifestations," he said.


Whenever possible, Biden said, the United States will choose to act preventively. "We'll draw upon all the elements of our power - military and diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, economic and cultural - to stop crises from occurring before they are in front of us," he said. "In short, we're going to attempt to recapture the totality of America's strength, starting with diplomacy."

Underscoring Obama's commitment to the centrality of diplomacy, Biden said, two special envoys have been selected to address the Middle East peace process and to address the complex challenges posed by Afghanistan and Pakistan. "In both of these efforts, America seeks your partnership," he said.

"President Obama has ordered a strategic review of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that our goals are clear, and that they are achievable. As we undertake that review, we seek ideas and input from you and all of our partners," Biden said to the international gathering.

Meeting these and other challenges of the new century, Biden said, takes more than defense and diplomacy; it also takes development.

"Poor societies and dysfunctional states, as you know as well as I do, can become breeding grounds for extremism, conflict and disease. Nondemocratic nations frustrate the rightful aspirations of their citizens and fuel resentment," he said.

Finally, Biden said, the time has come to restore areas where the United States and its allies can work together with Russia.

Russia and the United States will not agree on everything, and in recent years there has been a drift in relations between Russia and the Western alliance, he said.

"But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide," Biden said. "And they coincide in many places."


The Munich Conference is an annual gathering of government officials, foreign and defense policy experts and journalists to discuss trans-Atlantic security issues.

In addition to NATO enlargement and the European security architecture, conference organizers said other issues will include nonproliferation and nuclear weapons security, and regional crises like those in Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Central Caucasus and the Balkans.

Biden was to conduct bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk; Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; British Foreign Secretary David Miliband; NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Biden was also expected to hold meetings February 8, before returning to the United States, with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.