MUNICH — The Obama administration on Saturday called for stepped-up U.S.-European cooperation to isolate tyrannies like the Assad regime in Syria, promote democracy in the Arab World and beyond and repair damage from the global financial crisis.
And, as America shifts its primary strategic focus to Asia and reduces its military presence in Europe, President Barack Obama's top two national security aides — attending an international security conference in a demonstration of Washington's resolve — reassured the continent that it remains deeply relevant to U.S. interests as well as its partner of "first resort" in dealing with global hot spots.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Americans and Europeans must send a clear and common message to tyrants that they must respect the rights of their people. She spoke as violence flared anew in Syria.
"As a tyrant in Damascus brutalizes his own people, America and Europe stand shoulder to shoulder," she said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Clinton said, "Wherever tyrants deny the legitimate demands of their own people, we need to work together to send them a clear message: You cannot hold back the future at the point of a gun."
While promoting democracy, she warned that Europe could not ignore backsliding in its own back yard, decrying limits being placed on press and religious freedoms. She did not identify trouble spots by name but was referring to Russia, Belarus and Hungary.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Europe is America's security partner of choice for military operations and diplomacy around the world. He said Europe will continue to be a central U.S. defense interest, even as the administration withdraws two of the four Army brigades stationed on the continent.
Panetta noted that the U.S. is building a missile defense system in Europe, including a radar installation in Turkey and missiles to be stationed in Romania and Poland. He said four U.S. ships capable of shooting down missiles will be stationed at Rota, Spain. And he said that while two Army brigades will leave Europe, that will be partly offset by a new arrangement in which smaller Army units will rotate for temporary training assignments. This was announced in January as part of a new U.S. defense strategy. These changes, he said, amount to a U.S. "vote of confidence" in the future of NATO.