MUNICH-When Barack Obama came to Germany as a candidate last year, he stood before an adoring crowd of hundreds of thousands and promised to tear down "the walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic."
Vice President Joe Biden's three-day trip to Munich that ended Sunday struck the same note, but with a harder edge: In return for tearing down the walls caused by controversial Bush administration policies, the U.S. would expect tangible help dealing with an array of foreign policy problems, he said.
"America will do more, but American will ask more from its partners," he said in a speech that was warmly received but might have had some European officials privately longing for the Bush administration's tendency not to expect much, if anything, of Old Europe.
Biden did not return to Washington with any intriguing public promises of new help in Afghanistan from European leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, or on stopping Iran's nuclear program from Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Sitting beside Biden prior to their hour-long meeting Sunday, Ivanov declared Biden's offer "to press the reset button" on U.S.-Russian relations that had become badly strained by the end of the Bush years a "very positive" development.
But their hour-long meeting produced no apparent breakthroughs.
There wasn't even a chance meeting with Ali Laridjani, the speaker of Iran's parliament, who was attending the conference but skipped Biden's address.
Concrete achievements and symbolic encounters with longtime foes weren't the goal, administration officials said, noting that it was still too early and the issues too complex to expect immediate foreign policy successes.
The danger for Obama is that the steps he is seeking from Europe and Russia-help in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a tougher stance against Iran's nuclear program, and a willingness to accept transfers of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay-were all sought by the Bush administration, often without success.
Obama has already given up some leverage before getting anything from Europe and Russia by declaring that he intends to do exactly what they have long sought-close Guantanamo Bay, end torture of suspected terrorists and reinvigorate Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
The danger is that, as the novelty of the Obama administration begins to wear off the U.S. will be left with little more to show for its renewed focus on diplomacy than the Bush administration achieved.
Before that occurs, U.S. officials are hoping a willingness to engage in a way that the Bush administration never was will produce progress. Major reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran are currently under way and are expected to produce new options for Obama within several weeks.
In part to help produce the tangible gains the administration is seeking, Obama will become more personally involved in direct diplomacy, officials said, using his star power in a visit to a Muslim country and at major international meetings like the celebration of NATO's 60th anniversary later this year.
U.S. officials say they have received some promising signals that European allies are willing to consider helping to solve the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees by accepting small numbers of prisoners on a case by case basis.
"The Bush policy was sort of a 'unilateralism if we can, multilateralism if we must; you're kind of with us or against us,'" said Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan pentagon official, now a senior fellow at Center for American Progress. "Biden is saying now we want to work with other nations, but if you want us to consult you you're going to have to share some of the burden."
Other members of Obama?'s foreign policy team stayed behind Sunday and spoke in dire terms of the war in Afghanistan. ?
"In my view, it's going to be much tougher than Iraq," aid Richard Holbrooke, Obama'?s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The decision to send Biden to deliver the administration's first major outline of its foreign policy was an unusual one. Usually, the Munich Security Conference, where he gave his speech Saturday, is attended by the U.S. Defense Secretary and senior Pentagon officials and officers. Biden's presence so soon after the new administration took office elevated the importance of the event.
Not everyone was impressed with his speech. "It seems to me this is sort of vintage Biden. It's kind of a mish-mosh of platitudes and some really troubling comments interspersed with a dash of superciliousness," said Frank Gaffney, founder and president Center for Security Policy, a conservative defense think tank.
After more than three decades in the Senate, Biden is still adjusting to his new role as vice president, one that calls for playing a supporting role to President Barack Obama and, more often than not, striving not to make headlines-or at least not headlines that suggest he is off message or has his own ideas about policy.
Biden is clearly conscious of the new level of scrutiny his every utterance receives, "With the press here, they're looking at me to say something wrong," he remarked to U.S. Air Force personnel and their families during a stopover at an air base in Britain on his way home from Munich. "I never say anything wrong."
Whether the loquacious Biden, who has at times seemed out of step with the tightly focused Obama, could operate under such constraints was a unknown heading into the Munich conference, It was Biden's job to set the early tone of the administration's new foreign policy-not to muddy the message by free-lancing or free-associating.
He largely pulled it off. He was disciplined and precise, barely deviating from his prepared remarks in his Saturday address and holding private meetings, one after another, with foreign leaders that managed to generate little news. He kept the press largely at arms length, responding to shouted questions at photo ops with talking points and uncharacteristic mumbles.
The only possible indication of his notorious talkativeness was the tendency for his private meetings to run long. Otherwise he was a model of self-control.
"The last thing all of you need is another speech. I will spare you that," Biden declared, rising to toast Henry Kissinger at a banquet audience of German and American officials on Saturday. And he kept his vow, limiting his remarks to barely five minutes.