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Europe

US Will Seek To Repair Euro-Ties at Munich Security Conference

Joe Biden hopes to use the meeting to repair US relations with Europe that were damaged during the Bush administration, while Germany looks for a strong message to Moscow in the US Vice President's speech.

US Vice President Joe Biden

Biden hopes to turn things around with Europe

Biden will issue his remarks in the form of a major foreign policy speech on Feb. 7, 2009 at the Munich Security Conference, which will be attended by defense and security experts.

Analysts hope to extrapolate details of the new US administration's policies on Russia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and NATO expansion through Biden's speech.

Biden's first trip abroad as vice president is a crucial one, as he hopes to repair the ties with Europe that were strained through former US President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, as well as Bush's climate-change policies and confrontational approach to Russia.

"It is critical in setting the tone between this administration and the Europeans," said Sam Brannen, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, about Biden's trip to Munich. "Clearly they (Europeans) want him to say the transatlantic relationship is central."

While in Munich, Biden will meet with leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

US President Barack Obama and former Vice President George W. Bush

The new administration is distancing itself from Bush

And while some media have speculated that Biden may use his speech to announce a review of the Bush administration's planned missile shield in Europe as an olive branch to Russia, a White House official dismissed this statement.

"There will be no announcements beyond a broad and pretty forceful statement about the new administration's new approach to the transatlantic relationship and foreign policy in general -- a great emphasis on cooperation, diplomacy, respect for our allies and their concerns and opinions," the official said.

In a telephone call last week, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to stop the "drift" in between their two countries. When asked if Biden's speech would build on this possible detente with Moscow, a White House official said: "We want to work with Russia, and we want to see if we can get off on the right foot with Russia."

Germany want strong US message to Russia

On Thursday, German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said his country hoped for a strong message to Moscow.

"It would be a very, very important signal and a good start if the administration of (US President) Obama would now announce that it wants to re-enter a substantial dialogue with Russia on the issue of missile defense," Erler said.

Analysts also expect Biden to ask the European leaders in attendance for more support in Afghanistan, but were undivided as to whether this request would be in the form of troops, training or development aid. Up to now European leaders have been reluctant to send troops on a mission to Afghanistan.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler

Erler: Germany hopes for a US message to Russia

Germany, however, has a parliamentary mandate to send up to 4,500 troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission.

Asked whether Germany would increase its number of troops there or shift soldiers already there to more dangerous areas should the Obama administration call for such support, Erler said, "That's exactly the issue on which we don't see ... justified expectations on Germany because we've already increased (our presence)."

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