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A New Look For U.S. At Security Conference


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Vice President Joe Biden is leading the U.S. delegation at the annual Munich Security Conference. Leaders in Munich are looking for policy signals from Vice President Biden on the war in Afghanistan and U.S. relations with Iran, Russia and Europe. We're joined now from Munich by NPR's Rob Gifford. Rob, thanks very much for being with us.

ROB GIFFORD: Good to be here, Scott.


SIMON: And tell us what the vice president said this morning.

GIFFORD: Well, he had a lot to say, as you can imagine. This is the first major visit by a senior Obama administration official abroad. This is an annual conference, as you said. They always talk about security, so there was plenty of focus on security issues, on NATO, Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, as you say, as well as a reiteration of many of the themes of President Obama's inaugural address and the themes that he's been talking about in recent weeks - the environment, the desire to decrease poverty, all sorts of subjects like that.

But I suppose in a way, the most striking thing about this, in amongst all of these subjects, was really the tone - I think in some ways, the tone was the message of the speech. It was really completely different from the last eight years, and from the tone of the Bush administration towards Europe and towards the world. It was much more friendly. It was much more diplomatic. He kept using the world diplomacy. He kept talking about this renewal project, were his words, this renewal that they're trying to bring, to reset the button, as he put it, in working much closer with foreign allies.

SIMON: But he did draw the line with Russia on a few instances, didn't he?

GIFFORD: He did, yes. That's important to say. It wasn't just one big group hug, although at one point, I thought there was going to be an embrace between Vice President Biden and President Sarkozy. They had little joke together, and the tone was very informal and very friendly.


SIMON: They're both very warm guys. They're big huggers.

GIFFORD: They are, they are indeed. But certainly, he was very clear on a number of issues, especially Russia and Iran. He reiterated the open hand that the Obama administration has already voiced towards Iran, but he again was very strong on the line that President Obama has taken, that Iran must unclench its fist, as he said, and really must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, as many people believe they are.

Same with Russia. He again said, we want to cooperate with you. The fact that we disagree doesn't mean we can't cooperate. But there are certain things which we will not accept - the independence of certain pro-Russian enclaves in the Caucuses and all sorts of things to do with the Russian sphere of influence. Energy was talked about at length. So it was very much a hand of friendship, but not a blank check, if you like.

SIMON: And what about Afghanistan? The U.S. had indicated it would be interested in getting greater participation from some of the nations there in Afghanistan.

GIFFORD: Well, this was one of the other themes of the whole speech, very much stressing the friendship and the cooperation and the consultation that the Obama administration wants to have with Europe. But the flip side of that coin, Vice President Biden mentioned several times that there are responsibilities that go with this. He said, we want to cooperate with you more, but in turn, you must step up to the plate more. And Afghanistan is really an obvious one that he touched on, where we know that President Obama wants to commit more troops there. We know that he wants more European troops there, and this was said gently and diplomatically, very much part of Joe Biden's speech here, to say to the Europeans, we want to work with you but you also must do more.

SIMON: NPR's Rob Gifford at the Munich Security Conference. Thanks so much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.