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Biden extends olive branch to Russia, Iran

In his speech, Vice President Joe Biden warned Iran that it will face “pressure and isolation” if it pursues current policy.

Associated Press

In his speech, Vice President Joe Biden warned Iran that it will face “pressure and isolation” if it pursues current policy.

MUNICH, Germany — Vice President Joe Biden struck conciliatory notes Saturday toward Iran and Russia, and reassured European allies that the Obama administration would treat them as equals but emphasized that "America will ask its partners to do more as well."

In a major foreign policy address to an international security conference, Biden told an audience of world leaders that the White House was willing to engage the government in Tehran if it heeded calls to end its nuclear weapons program and changed its policies in the Middle East.

"This much is clear: We will be willing to talk," Biden said. But he added a warning to Iran: "continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation."

Biden also said the White House wanted a fresh start with the Kremlin, which under Vladimir Putin had seen a steady deterioration in relations with the Bush administration. Biden said the United States will pursue a missile defense plan that has angered the Kremlin, but he also left open the possibility of compromise on the issue.

"The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and members of our alliance," he said, referring to the NATO military alliance. "The United States rejects the notion that NATO's gain is Russia's loss, or that Russia's strength is NATO's weakness."

"It is time to press the reset button, and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia," he said in the 25-minute address to the Munich Security Conference.

Some Western diplomats had expected Biden to announce a strategic review of the missile defense system as a way to defuse tensions between Washington and Moscow. Although Biden did not go that far, he did leave room in both the speech and in an interview afterward for unspecified changes in the plan.

The system, as conceived by the Bush administration, would place missile interceptors and a radar system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russians object to the placement so close to their border.

In recent months, Moscow and Washington have squabbled over the Russian invasion of Georgia, proposals to expand NATO and the global financial crisis. The Pentagon also blames Russia for pressuring the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. airbase that supplies troops in Afghanistan.

The Russian reaction to Saturday's speech was quick and favorable. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in the Duma, said he welcomed Biden's comments about "a need to listen to partners," as opposed to former President George Bush's approach "that everything is already predecided, everything is clear and should be done the way the American administration thinks about it." He said the new stance would make it easier to reach agreement on many issues, including the antimissile dispute.

Biden said he hoped the United States and Russia would work more closely to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, a goal that Russia has said it shares. "The U.S. and Russia can disagree but still work together where its interests coincide," he said.

The vice president told European leaders that the White House was in the midst of a top-to-bottom review of its policy in Afghanistan, where the war is entering its eighth year with no end in sight.

The White House is expected to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this year, nearly doubling the size of its force there.

Biden extends olive branch to Russia, Iran 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 8:52pm]
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