NATO jaap de hoop 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a first speech regarding the Obama administration's foreign policy, US Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday stressed that the US will work towards a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
Biden spoke at a meeting of world leaders at the Munich Security Conference where he noted that it was time for a just and safe resolution of the conflict.
He also reiterated statements made by US President Barack Obama on the willingness to hold diplomatic talks with Iran, but stressed that the US will act to isolate and pressure Teheran if the Islamic Republic continues its current course and does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.
The US will strive to act preemptively to avoid having to choose between the risks of war and the dangers of inaction, said Biden.
But he held out the option that the United States could take preemptive action against Iran if necessary to stop crises before they start.
Speaking at the same conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West was ready to push for harsher penalties to prevent Teheran from developing nuclear arms.
"It is a must to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons," she said, alluding to international concerns that Teheran's civilian program could be used to declare such arms.
Germany's chancellor also endorsed the principle of greater military support for the US in NATO operations but did not commit to additional deployment in Afghanistan.
Biden also called for closer cooperation with Moscow, saying it was time to repair the rift in relations between the US and Russia.
The US vice president noted that despite differences with Moscow, including US opposition to Russia's efforts to carve out independent states in Georgia, the US, NATO and Russia should cooperate to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Also at the conference on Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a similar statement, saying that Russia does not pose a military threat to the European Union or NATO and expressed that confidence between the partners had to be restored, France 24 TV news channel reported.
The comments came just days after the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan announced that it will shut down American access to the Manas air base, which the US uses to re-supply troops in Afghanistan.
The decision followed Kyrgyzstan securing more than $2 billion in loans and aid from Russia.
Biden added that allies must work together to combat extremism and noted that one way other nations can help is to take responsibility for some of the suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.
Also Saturday, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer blasted Europe's reluctance to respond to American calls for more troops in Afghanistan, saying countries like Germany and France need to "share the heavy lifting."
Sarkozy did not mention the issue at all during the meeting.
The NATO chief, a staunch supporter of US calls for more European troops in Afghanistan, referred to a joint call this week from Merkel and Sarkozy to strengthen Europe's role in NATO. He said it was a good idea but would not come without cost.
"I'm frankly concerned when I hear the United States is planning a major commitment for Afghanistan but other allies are already ruling out doing more," he told a gathering of world leaders and top ministers at the Munich Security Conference.
"That is not good for the political balance ... and it also makes the calls for Europe's' voice to be heard in Washington perhaps a bit more hollow than it should be."
Germany has argued that its military is already too far stretched to commit more troops beyond the 4,500 now in the relatively calm north of Afghanistan.
Instead, it has said the focus should be on future civil reconstruction, in conjunction with military security.
The French parliament voted in September to keep 3,300 French troops in the Afghan theater, but has no current plans to increase the French contingent.
Sarkozy argued for a Europe more ready to defend itself instead of relying on others, without touching on the Afghan troops issue.
"Does Europe want peace, or does Europe want to be left in peace?" he asked. "If you want peace, then you need to have the requisite means to survive ... you need to have political and military power."
De Hoop Scheffer said that if Europe wants a greater voice, it needs to do more.
"The Obama administration has already done a lot of what Europeans have asked for including announcing the closure of Guantanamo and a serious focus on climate change," he said. "Europe should also listen; when the United States asks for a serious partner, it does not just want advice, it wants and deserves someone to share the heavy lifting."
De Hoop Scheffer added that the same principle applies to Russian requests to be involved in Washington's plans to place a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
He said Russia cannot talk of a new "security architecture" yet build its own new bases in Georgia and support Kyrgyzstan's plans to close the Manas air base, used by the US.
The US plans interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Washington has said the system is aimed at preventing missile attacks by "rogue states" such as Iran, but Russian officials claim the true intention is to undermine Russia's defenses.
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