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."