Biden visits NATO, asks for help in Afghanistan
Vice President Joe Biden said he visited a NATO meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to listen to America’s allies, but his own words made clear the Obama administration wants alliance members to help with Afghanistan.
And, the U.S. plans to hold them to any commitments they make.
Biden’s visit is part of a push to strengthen the waning interest of some NATO members as the United States boosts its own forces in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with NATO allies a few days ago, and President Barack Obama plans to visit a NATO summit in early April.
"I came to listen. I realize there may be questions for our administration, but I primarily came here today to listen," Biden said.
"President Obama and I are deeply committed to NATO. Let’s get that straight right from the start."
Yet the visit follows a history of rocky relations between NATO members over the prolonged war in Afghanistan. The war has been a hard sell for many Europeans who don’t see a vital interest in sending their soldiers so far from home.
Many of the countries have been reluctant to deploy their forces in large numbers, while many of those already in Afghanistan are relegated to support roles outside of the most contentious provinces.
Biden made clear that he expected to forge a "joint common strategy," appealing to other nations’ own self-interests to make his case.
Afghanistan and neighboring areas in Pakistan’s tribal region have been the point of origin for every major terrorist attack in the West — as well as last year’s attack in Mumbai, India — since 9/11, Biden said. Meanwhile, al-Qaida is regenerating in its safe havens there and planning new attacks from there.
"The United States believes we share a vital security interest in meeting that challenge. Each of our countries has a vital interest, from the point of view of the United States, in meeting that challenge," he said in his opening remarks.
"I want to make it clear to you from the perspective of the average United States citizen, an attack, a terrorist attack, in Europe is viewed as an attack on us," he said. "That is not hyperbole because we understand and we view it as an attack on the West, and we view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States."
Biden had specific recommendations for NATO, especially the need to view Afghanistan and Pakistan together. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Biden offered important ideas on subjects such as strengthening Afghan forces, creating a trust fund to pay for those forces and ensuring legitimacy for the government, while also emphasizing the need for the alliance to deliver short-term results.
"Vice President Biden gave us food for thought, but as I said in my summing up, he also gave us food for action," Scheffer said.
The vice president said he will build ideas discussed at the meeting into the proposal he plans to present to Obama prior to a NATO summit in April, but he made it plain that the United States expected NATO members to adhere to any joint strategy agreed to.
"Once that is arrived at, we the United States expect everyone to keep whatever commitments were made in arriving at that joint strategy," he said.
Biden also briefly discussed the future of Kosovo — a NATO mission that was widely seen as reinvigorating the alliance for the post-Cold War world.
When asked whether troops would be pulled from there to reinforce Afghanistan, he said that decisions about the two countries would be considered independently.
"No, we do not believe we need to withdraw or make a judgment relative to Afghanistan based on progress or lack thereof in Kosovo," he said.