The Cable

Biden does Europe

Vice President Joe Biden is on a tour of Europe that will include stops in Germany, France, and Britain and meetings with leaders from Russia, the United Nations, and the Syrian opposition.

The White House is framing the trip as chance for Biden to reassert the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship at the beginning of President Barack Obama's second term. Biden will start by attending the Munich Security Conference, which he last attended in 2009.

"Now he's going back at the start of the second [term]... to take stock of what we've accomplished over the past four years and to look at the agenda going forward," said Tony Blinken, Biden's outgoing national security advisor, who will soon move into his new role as the principal deputy national security advisor at the National Security Council. "It's no coincidence that the vice president went to Europe then and returns to Europe now to help set out our foreign-policy agenda. As President Obama has said, Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst for global cooperation."

Biden left Washington Thursday evening and arrived in Berlin Friday morning for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Friday evening he arrives in Munich, where he will give a speech and hold a series of meetings on Saturday. Biden will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, and with Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian opposition council.

"We'll be discussing our continued political and non-lethal support to the opposition that is helping them coalesce and become more organized and provide certain services like medical services to the Syrian people," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. "And we'll be discussing the political way forward. And what we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgement that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government."

Rhodes also confirmed that Biden and Lavrov will discuss the potential for new nuclear reductions negotiations, as The Cable reported this week.

"On this question of further reductions, the president has spoken to this in the past. For instance, if you look at the speech he gave in Seoul in the spring of last year, he indicated that even as we move forward with the New START reductions and deployed warheads and launchers, that he believes that there's room to explore the potential for continued reductions, and that, of course, the best way to do so is in a discussion with Russia," said Rhodes. "We'll obviously have to carry forward that dialogue going forward."

Saturday evening, Biden will attend Bavarian minister Horst Seehofer's dinner, which honors former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. At last year's Munich Security Conference, the dinner honored former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

On Sunday, Biden and his wife will visit the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before leaving for Paris later Sunday afternoon. On Monday Biden will meet French President François Hollande before moving on to London, where on Tuesday he will meet with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron for a working lunch at 10 Downing Street. Following lunch, Biden will attend a meeting of Britain's National Security Council.

Blinken said that in his Paris and London stops, Biden will be discussing the ongoing crisis in Mali and ways to increase the ongoing U.S. support for the French-led mission there.

"What we're seeing across North Africa and parts of the Middle East is an extremist threat that is fueled by the reality of porous borders, ungoverned territory, too readily available weapons, increasing collaboration among some of these groups, and, in many cases, a new government that lacks the capacity and sometimes the will to deal with the problem," Blinken said.

"And so this requires a comprehensive approach, as Ben said, bringing to bear our political and economic tools, as well as our military tools, but it also requires a common approach. And so this trip is an opportunity, in all of its stops, for the vice president to confer with leaders about that and to look forward to how we can continue to work together and strengthen our common efforts to deal with this challenge."

The Cable

Clinton says farewell at CFR

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the final major speech of her tenure Thursday to a packed house at the Council of Foreign Relations' offices in Washington in advance of her successor John Kerry's official swearing-in ceremony Friday.

"Tomorrow is my last day as secretary of state, and though it is hard to predict what any day in this job will bring, I know that tomorrow my heart will be very full," she said. "Serving with the men and women at the State Department and USAID has been a singular honor, and Secretary Kerry will find there is no more extraordinary group of people working anywhere in the world. So these last days have been bittersweet for me."

More than 300 people attended the speech, including senior State Department officials such as Melanne Verveer, Maria Otero, and Jake Sullivan, as well as outside luminaries such as Bush-era intelligence director John Negroponte and former Sen. Evan Bayh. Clinton used the opportunity to lay out the by-now familiar argument that America's economic, diplomatic, and security strength is greatly improved compared to when she and Obama came to office four years ago.

"Under President Obama's leadership, we've ended the war in Iraq, begun a transition in Afghanistan and brought Osama bin Laden to justice. We have also revitalized American diplomacy and strengthened our alliances. And while our economic recovery is not yet complete, we are heading in the right direction," she said. "In short, America today is stronger at home and more respected in the world. And our global leadership is on firmer footing than many predicted."

She also defended what she called her style of "shoe-leather" diplomacy, which has included vsiting 112 countries, logging nearly 1 million miles of travel, and accumulating almost 87 days of total flight time.

"I have found it highly ironic that in today's world, when we can be anywhere, virtually, more than ever people want us to actually show up," Clinton said. "And people say to me all the time, I look at your travel schedule; why Togo? Well, no secretary of state had ever been to Togo, but Togo happens to hold a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a strategic purpose."

Clinton praised the State Department's outreach to non-governmental entities in foreign countries and touted the expansion of public diplomacy into new mediums, such as Twitter, during her tenure. She also railed against the Broadcasting Board of Governors, of which she is a board member, and said that organization was failing in its mission and losing ground to foreign competitors.

"We have basically abdicated, in my view, the broadcast media," she said. "I have tried and will continue from the outside to try to convince Congress and others, if we don't have an up-to-date, modern, effective broadcasting board of governors, we shouldn't have one at all."

The State Department would be hit hard by the budget cuts known as "sequestration" which would kick in as of March unless Congress intervenes, Clinton said. Civilian employees could be furloughed, security overseas could be cut, and citizen services like passports could be negatively impacted, she warned.

She also said the United States must get more involved in helping Central American countries shore up their ability to protect their borders if the United States is serious about addressing the issue of illegal immigration.

"At the same time that we do immigration reform, we need to do more on border security and internal security in Central America," she said, noting that illegal immigration from Mexico has tapered off. "I think we have to do more with the Central American countries in order to help them the way that we have helped others."

CFR President Richard Haas closed the event by commenting, "At the risk of leaving you all with an image that probably isn't good, I would simply say that John Kerry has some fairly large Manolo Blahniks to fill."

"That is very funny," Clinton replied. "Oh my goodness."

Kaveh Sardari/CFR