Biden To Set U.S. Tone In European Trip

In this Jan. 14, 2009 file photo, then-Vice President-elect Joe Biden gestures while discussing his recent trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Pakistan during a meeting with President-elect Barack Obama, not shown, at Obama's transition office in Washington. Biden will be tested on two fronts this weekend as he makes the Obama administration's first official trip overseas. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

En route to a security conference in Germany, Vice President Joe Biden warned Friday that the United States faces daunting economic and security problems in Afghanistan and will need help from allies to deal with them.

"We've got to make Afghanistan the world's responsibility, not just the United States' responsibility," Biden told a House Democratic retreat before heading to Munich as the new administration's first envoy to Europe.

Afghanistan will be high on Biden's priority list at the security conference, where he will speak to the gathering of world leaders on Saturday and hold bilateral meetings with Russia, Georgia, Germany, France and Britain. He will be joined by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser.

The U.S. has some 33,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and Obama is expected to send another 30,000 this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to the Afghan conflict.

Coming just over two weeks after Biden and Obama took office, the trip will allow Biden to begin mapping the role U.S. expects to play in simmering issues across the region, and to set the stage for much anticipated policy shifts from the Bush administration.

"It's important to hear from our allies," said Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "and make sure they understand that a very different foreign policy is back and that the United States is prepared to lead ... on issues like global climate change, nuclear proliferation, arms control, Afghanistan, NATO, in ways that aren't quite as unilateral and provocative as the last administration."

In his speech Saturday, Biden is expected to call on allies to join with the U.S. in confronting a wide array of international problems, including Afghanistan. The U.S. routinely presses NATO and others to contribute more military, economic and other aide to the Afghanistan effort.

"As the president said throughout the campaign, he wants to strengthen our alliances and build a spirit of cooperation," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "It's going to take a spirit of cooperation to face the great challenges that the world faces."

It won't be the first time the U.S. has come to one of these meetings with its hand out. And, at times during the Bush years, it has come away almost empty-handed.

Reluctant allies have balked at sending more troops to the increasingly violent struggle in Afghanistan, and have been slow to respond to repeated U.S. requests for more resources.

Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized Germany and other European allies for refusing to allow their troops in Afghanistan to be deployed to the Taliban strongholds in the south, where U.S., British and other contingents have battled. He told the gathering that NATO won't survive if countries become divided into two tiers - one willing to fight and one not.

Gates, who kept his job in the new administration, and other U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that al Qaeda and other extremists, including those in Afghanistan, pose a serious security risk to European countries.

This year, Biden will need to communicate to the gathered world leaders that the U.S. is up to the challenge in Afghanistan, but that allies will need to address the challenge together, said Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

European leaders also will look for Biden to lay out the Obama administration's commitment to the region, and they will watch for any sign that the U.S. might be shifting its position on plans to put missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic a plan that has enraged Moscow.

Obama has been noncommittal about deploying the missile shield, while other Democrats including Kerry have voiced a willingness to reopen talks.
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