Biden to lead U.S. delegation at Munich
STUTTGART, Germany — Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. delegation at next week’s Munich Security Conference, where top Western political leaders and defense policy experts are expected to take a hard look at the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Retired Gen. James L. Jones, former commander of U.S. European Command and current national security adviser to the White House, will be accompanying Biden during the visit to Germany, according to the vice president’s office.
There will be much to debate at the Feb. 6-8 conference, which will involve speeches and panel discussions on an array of trans-Atlantic security concerns.
"Biden will carry the message that we expect them (European allies) to help carry the load, not just as NATO in Afghanistan, but with all the other problems — Iran, Russia, Iraq, the Middle East, the economy and so forth," a senior unnamed official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Indeed, much has happened since last year’s gathering. For starters, there was the brief war in August between U.S. ally Georgia and Russia, which added stress to an already strained relationship between America and its old Cold War foe.
Conditions in Afghanistan have continued to erode during the past 12 months. With President Barack Obama planning to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, U.S. officials in Munich will likely seek more support from their NATO partners in the fight Defense Secretary Robert Gates described earlier this week as the country’s "greatest military challenge."
Gates, however, will not be attending this year’s conference.
Sending the vice president, Gates believes, "sends a message to Europe that this new administration is committed at the highest levels to continue to work with our European allies on security matters," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in an interview with AP.
A final list of speakers attending the conference was unavailable Thursday. But Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a regular attendee of the event, are among the U.S. leaders who are expected to participate.
More than 40 prime ministers and foreign and defense ministers have confirmed their participation so far, according to the conference Web site.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are among those who will be taking part.
In all, 300 defense and security experts are expected in Munich next week.
The main topics will be conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as the volatile situation in the Caucasus. The future of NATO and nonproliferation and nuclear weapons also will be dealt with.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will be one of the speakers focusing on the nuclear issue.
In addition to traditional security matters, there will be added focus this year on global challenges such as energy, climate policy and cybercrime.