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Security Conference

DW staff (jc)
February 3, 2009

Seniors leaders from around the world are preparing to meet in Munich later this week to discuss security issues. The US and Europe want to increase their cooperation, but how much disagreement still exists?

German tank passes a bicyclist in Afghanistan
Security in Afghanistan is one of the issues to be discussedImage: AP

The three-day conference, which kicks off on Friday, February 6, will feature more than 300 participants from more than fifty countries.

Vice President Joe Biden will represent the United States, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among the high-profile European attendees.

Conference director Wolfgang Ischinger says that one aim of the meeting will be to get beyond the quarrels that marked US-European relations during the Bush administration.

A former German ambassador to the US, Ischinger told the dpa news agency that he expected a "new trans-Atlantic solidarity" after the "somewhat complicated Bush years."

Some traditional European allies of the US refused to participate in the US-led Iraq War, and most Europeans were critical of what they saw as Washington's unilateral approach to world affairs under Bush.

Ischinger said he expected "an adult partnership" in which "one considers what one can achieve together."

US President Barack Obama has thus far drawn favorable reviews in Europe for his greater willingness to listen to allies and for policies such as ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which many European considered the site of grotesque violations of international human-rights standards.

A world meeting

Wolfgang Ischinger
Conference director Wolfgang Ischinger is an experienced diplomatImage: AP

Some of the primary topics on the agenda will be the future of NATO, the post-war stabilization of Afghanistan, relations between Russia and the West, energy security and Iran's nuclear program.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking part, as is Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Obama has said he wants the US and its allies to focus its fight against terrorism on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Western European and Russian representatives are sure to discuss Moscow's ongoing quarrel with Ukraine, which left parts of the EU without natural gas supplies this winter.

Iran plans to send former top security negotiator and current parliamentary spokesman Ali Larijani.

President Obama has repeatedly said that, in contrast to his predecessor, he would be potentially willing to negotiate directly with Iran on security issues. The Munich conference could mark the start of a thaw in relations between these two old adversaries.

Rendition flights to continue

Khaled al-Masri reads German newspapers
Germany's Khaled al-Masri says he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA in 2004Image: AP

But while Obama has drawn praise for ordering the closure of Guantanamo and for taking a clear stand against torture, he's not changing all practices from the Bush administration.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the CIA will still be permitted to abduct terrorist suspects and transfer them by plane to other locations.

So-called "rendition flights" have raised opposition in Europe, because it was assumed that abductees would be tortured in transit or taken to countries where torture was a common practices.

According to the Times, an executive order signed by Obama creates a task force to ensure that the CIA does not engage in torture, but does not ban rendition per se.

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