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Change? What Change?

Joe Biden tells Munich conference: 'US will talk to Iran and ally with Russia against terror'

US Vice-president Joe Biden has offered talks with Iran, proposed alliance with Russia against "Islamic" terror.

By Philip Sherwell

February 07, 2009 "
The Telegraph" -- -Barack Obama's number two delivered the first landmark foreign policy speech of the new administration in his address to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

The speech offered a marked change in tone from the previous administration which was often seen as promoting go-it-alone diplomacy over international co-operation. But there were few major new policy initiatives behind the rhetoric - a signal that the Obama White House and secretary of state Hillary Clinton are still drawing up strategies for key areas.

"Our administration is reviewing policy toward Iran, but this much is clear: we will be willing to talk," he said.

"We will be willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives."

He proposed a shared fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban with Russia as part of an era of improved relations between Washington and Moscow.

"The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our [Nato] alliance," he said. "It's time, to paraphrase President Obama, to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together."

But he offered Moscow little at this stage beyond mood music, insisting that the US "will not recognise any nation having a sphere of influence" - a clear reference to Russia's view that the former Soviet Union is its political and diplomatic backyard.

He also said that the US would not recognise the sovereignty of the breakaway pro-Moscow Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where tensions last year took Russia and American ally Georgia briefly to war.

And perhaps most significantly, he indicated that the US would press ahead with plans for a missile defence project based in Poland and the Czech Republic, while adding riders about the cost and effectiveness of the programme. Moscow was enfuriated when the Bush administration announced the scheme, although the Kremlin has taken a more conciliatory approach since Mr Obama entered the White House.

Mr Biden called on America's Nato allies for greater assistance, pointedly asking European states to help the Obama administration to close the Guantanamo Bay camp by accepting some of the remaining detainees.

The vice-president has also been lobbying in behind-door meetings for other Nato states to send more troops or military resources to Afghanistan - a number one priority for the Obama White House. So far, only Britain has indicated a willingness to send extra forces.

"America will do more. That's the good news," he said. "The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well."

Emphasising a change on mood and approach, he told the audience: "I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration, an administration that is determined to set a new tone not only in Washington, but in America's relations around the world. That new tone is rooted in a strong bipartisanship to meet these common challenges. And we recognise that meeting these challenges is not a luxury but an absolute necessity."

Key elements of Mr Biden's speech were aimed at conveying this new tone. "We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power," he said. "We believe they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and our values. So we'll engage. We'll listen. We'll consult."

Three days ahead of Israeli elections, he emphasised US commitment to a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And to the Muslim world, he said: "America will extend a hand, as the President has said, to those who unclench their fists.

"In the Muslim world, a small and I believe very small, number of terrorists are beyond the call of reason. We will and we must defeat them. But hundreds of millions of hearts and minds in the Muslim world share the values we hold dear. We must reach them."

But he also sought to make clear that the US would not back away from the use of force where necessary. "As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development, democracy and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches - including their willingness to use force when all else fails."

 

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