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Biden discusses security with European allies

US Vice President Joseph Biden is leading a delegation to the Munich Security Conference to meet with European allies on issues including improving NATO's relations with Russia, nuclear proliferation, and policies on Iran and North Korea.


AFP - The new US administration is to give first details of its foreign policy vision at the annual Munich security conference starting Friday.

US Vice President Joseph Biden is to give the keynote speech at the three day meeting which will also focus on ways to improve relations between NATO and Russia and discuss nuclear proliferation and missile moves by Iran and North Korea.

Ali Larijani, formerly Iran's envoy to nuclear talks and now its parliament speaker, will appear with the head of the UN's atomic watchdog, Mohammed ElBaradei, at a discussion on arms control and nuclear weapons on Friday.

Indian national security advisor M.K. Narayanan and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

But it is the speech from Biden on Saturday which most are waiting for, looking for the first signs of how new President Barack Obama might want to tackle the world's security problems.

Obama is seeking clean break from the era of President George W. Bush, who divided Europe over the war on Iraq and ratcheted up tensions with Russia.

"It's always been the sort of place where the Americans have exposed their doctrine. Everyone's waiting to hear what the first messages are," an EU official told AFP.

US officials have said Biden will emphasise "that you do not have to choose between security and values", and that his speech would aim to "set the right tone" for future relations.

Speculation is rife that Biden, who has a series of bilateral meetings outside the formal sessions here, will announce a review of the US missile defence shield, which Bush worked to expand into Europe.

Washington says the shield is meant to counter a growing ballistic missile threat from Iran, but the plan has deeply angered Russia which sees it as a menace to its own missile capabilities.

In recent weeks, Moscow, represented in Munich by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, has toned down its rhetoric, comforted by the stance taken on strategic arms by Obama, just weeks into his mandate.

"We are hearing the signals from Washington. So far the Obama administration has preferred to pause on this question, not to hurry with it, which is a signal we view positively," Ivanov told AFP this week.

He also said a renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a Cold War nuclear disarmament pact that expires in December, would send a good message to the world -- including those seeking nuclear arms.

Talks on renewing START, which led to huge reductions of the US and Russian nuclear arsenals after its signing in 1991, stalled under the Bush administration.

Ivanov is to hold talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the latest step in a resumption in high-level contacts that were frozen in August over Russia's war on Georgia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also to make a major security speech, in a session accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Sunday, the spotlight falls on Afghanistan, where a NATO-led mission to spread the influence of President Hamid Karzai's weak central government and foster reconstruction is under threat from a Taliban-led insurgency.

Karzai will hold his first bilateral meeting with Scheffer since a bust-up between the two last month over the NATO chief's criticism that Kabul is not doing enough to fight corruption.

The session will also include US National Security Advisor James Jones, the general previously in command of NATO forces, and the defence ministers of Britain and Canada, whose troops are on the frontline.

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