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Europe listens cautiously to Obama agenda

Biden opens a door on Iran, but presses allies on Afghanistan.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 2009

Obama’s policies: Vice President Joe Biden addressed European leaders Saturday in Munich, Germany, saying the US was willing to talk to Iran and was ready to ‘press the reset’ button on Russian relations.

Michael Dalder/Reuters



Stressing partnership and cooperation, Vice President Joe Biden opened a new chapter in American foreign affairs at a major conference of allies in Germany, offering talks with Iran and a bid to "reboot" troubled Russian relations.

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But members of the White House foreign-policy team, including national security adviser Gen. James Jones, also issued an appeal to move urgently on Afghanistan, which General Jones says is "not simply an American problem, but an international problem."

The double-edged message was received with deep appreciation – and soberness. The new US president is well-liked in Europe, but support is weak for sending combat troops to Afghanistan. The issue could be deeply divisive; but for now, the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, where the summit was held, at times felt like a diplomatic lovefest.

France is rejoining NATO, German and French relations have come out of a funk, and Russia reacted warmly to US promises to take a fresh approach to relations with Moscow – despite President Obama's intentions to continue pursuing a controversial missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Speaking Saturday to an audience of top European leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and leaders of NATO, Mr. Biden said that the US would not act alone overseas, would not sacrifice its values for its security, and would address climate change. He spoke of a "new tone – rooted in partnerships ... that is not a luxury, but a necessity."

On Sunday, however, Gen. Jones told representatives of nations that have troops in Afghanistan that the current approach to the eight-year war "doesn't match the urgency required," and implied the Obama team was not going to sit on its hands. In coming months, a revamped National Security Agency will be in a "continuous and rapid consultation" with allies on Afghanistan solutions, to reshape NATO to be more proactive at a "crossroads of history.... we cannot afford failure."