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Europe listens cautiously to Obama agenda

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

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Last week, Russia offered more than $2 billion in economic blandishments to persuade Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to order the closure of the US airbase at Manas, a major staging point for supplies to Afghanistan and the last remaining American outpost in former Soviet Central Asia.

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"The message here speaks directly to the state of US-Russia relations," says Andrey Fedorov, political project director of the nongovernmental Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow think tank. "We want to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and we have many common goals. But the US needs to understand that they must negotiate with Russia if they want to establish an alternative supply route to Afghanistan through former Soviet territory."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said his country was eager "to start anew," with the US, but he offered no immediate concessions on contentious issues. "It is not an Oriental bazaar," Mr. Ivanov said in a news conference Sunday, "And we do not trade the way people do in the bazaars."

Ivanov also repeated Moscow's plans to install Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if the US pushes forward on an antiballistic missile shield. President Obama has said he would continue to pursue the shield, which is meant to protect against possible missiles from Iran, if the system proves reliable. Ivanov suggested a joint effort using Russian radar.

US officials privately said that the Munich summit is simply an opening up, a getting-to-know-the-allies moment, and that the Obama administration is just getting started with a number of 60-day policy reviews. More specifics and even conclusions are expected in April at a NATO 60th anniversary summit.

Ulrike Guérot, of the European Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin says: "This seems a new 'can-do' administration and they want to cooperate with Russia. Biden is saying Russia is not nice, but we need to work with them. It is a new kind of language, and people were just basking in it."

Leading up to the April meeting, US officials are expected to make stronger pushes for more troops and equipment for Afghanistan – requests that could very well reduce Obama's glimmer in Europe. For now, though, leaders here are happy to hear the new president's message of cooperation, says Ralf Fuecks, head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.

"The main signal of the meeting here is good will," he says. "You can just feel it in the room, you can feel the relief, and it is a feeling that hasn't been here for some time. We want to be spoken to as partners. But that doesn't mean Europeans will be willing to offer at lot more troops for Afghanistan."

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