MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced changes to U.S. foreign policy on Saturday that emphasized diplomacy over military power but also urged allies to shoulder more of the burden in tackling global crises.
“I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America’s relations around the world,” Biden told a security conference in Munich, Germany.
“We will engage. We will listen. We will consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America.”
Delivering the Obama administration’s first major foreign policy speech, Biden effectively repudiated former President George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” foreign policy. Biden’s speech also tried to turn the page on the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Bush’s skepticism over climate change that alienated many Europeans.
But, Biden made clear the United States was still prepared to use military force to protect its national security.
“There is no conflict between our security and our ideals. They are mutually reinforcing. The force of arms won our independence, and throughout our history, the force of arms has protected our freedom. That will not change,” he said.
While promising that Washington would consult and listen more to its allies, he said it would also ask for more from them, for example by taking in inmates from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, which President Barack Obama has said will be closed within a year.
“America will do more, but America will ask for more from our partners,” he said. “The threats we face have no respect for borders. No single country, no matter how powerful, can best meet them alone.”
In the wide-ranging speech, Biden called for a greater commitment by NATO members in Afghanistan, a united effort to force Iran to scrap its nuclear program, a sharp reduction in nuclear arsenals and a halt in what he called a “dangerous drift” in relations with Russia.
Biden’s speech was short on any announcements, but analysts had said beforehand that the vice president’s mere appearance at the conference, which is normally attended by the U.S. defense secretary, sent an important signal to Europe that the Obama administration was keen to rebuild strained relations.
There had been much speculation before the conference that Biden would announce the suspension or review of the former Bush administration plans to build a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, a move that angered Russia.
“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective,” Biden told the gathering of security experts and European leaders.
But, he stressed: “We will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia.”
Biden is due to hold talks with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday before returning to Washington, the most high-profile contacts between Moscow and the new Obama administration.
Moscow has sent contradictory signals over what kind of relationship it wants with the new Obama administration — first suspending the deployment of missiles on its Polish border, and then appearing to engineer the closure of an important U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, analysts said.
On Iran, Biden said there must be a united effort by the international community to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program, which the West believes is a cover to build an atomic bomb and Tehran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
“We are 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 your illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives,” he said.
Biden also touched on one of the most sensitive issues at the conference — NATO’s role in Afghanistan eight years after U.S.-led forces invaded to topple the Taliban Islamist government.
The United States, which has repeatedly criticized NATO member states for not doing enough in Afghanistan and being too slow to respond to requests for more troops, has launched a review of its strategy there.
“The result must be a comprehensive strategy for which we all take responsibility that brings together our civilian and military resources that prevents a terrorist safe have and that helps Afghans develop the capacity to secure their own future,” Biden said.
He called for a renewal of NATO to face 21st century threats and for a new resolve by member states to face them.
“Our Alliance must be better equipped to help stop the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons, to tackle terrorism and cyber-security, to expand its writ to energy security and to act in and out of area effectively.”