World leaders are looking for insights into the new US administration's foreign policy as US Vice-President Joe Biden is set to address the Munich Security Conference Saturday in his first major international appearance.
Biden was set to close a VIP debate on Saturday, Feb. 7, entitled "The future of European security" at the prestigious conference, which has gathered some 350 top politicians from around the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk were all scheduled to speak in the debate, which analysts expect to provide a snapshot of the major foreign-policy flashpoints of the next few years.
The future of NATO, European security and energy supply are the focus of the talks.
Thaw anticipated in ties with Russia
The US has said placing a missile shield in eastern Europe would guard against threats from the Middle East
Biden's closing speech could give an indication of how the new US administration of President Barack Obama intends to approach the issues that are gnawing at US-Russia relations at a time when the former Cold War foes are reeling under the impact of the global financial crisis.
Tensions between Washington and Moscow heated up toward the end of former US President George W. Bush's administration. Bush had been a proponent of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and of locating parts of a missile defense system in eastern Europe, while Russia opposes both plans.
Biden is expected to take a softer line than his predecessors did, though it is unclear whether the current administration intends to stall the controversial missile shield project, which Russia views as a threat to its security.
"The president's position on those missiles is if they're (…) technologically capable and effective, and make sense from a fiscal standpoint, then it's something that he'll look at," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Friday.
Biden is scheduled to meet on Sunday with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Calls for assistance in Middle East
The vice-president gave some clues to his administration's foreign policy plans before leaving Washington on Friday, where he said the US would have to be more "aggressive" in promoting political reform in Iraq.
Jones said the US was changing its strategy in Afghanistan
The Obama administration has already pledged to pull the majority of American combat troop out of Iraq within the next 16 months, and to divert resources to the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
From Washington on Friday, Biden indicated that the US was counting on assistance in its efforts in the Middle East.
"We expect to share (our) commitment with governments and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as our friends and partners," he said. European countries have already expressed reluctance to boosting their current involvement in Afghanistan.
In an interview Friday with Germany's Sueeddeutsche Zeitung, US National Security Advisor James Jones said Washington would shift its strategy in Afghanistan within the next 60 days, placing greater emphasis on reconstruction.
"We need more than a military solution," said the former four-star US Marine general. "Answers won't be unilateral, but multilateral."
On Sunday the Munich conference is expected to debate the future of the UN-mandated NATO mission in Afghanistan.