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US Vice President to Discuss Afghanistan with NATO Allies

By Lisa Bryant
Paris
10 March 2009

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is heading to Brussels for talks Tuesday with NATO allies as Washington seeks greater European support in Afghanistan. Possible U.S. missile-defense systems and ties with Russia may also be on the menu.

Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Brussels follows similar talks between NATO members and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a few days ago, and just weeks before President Barack Obama attends a summit of the trans-Atlantic alliance in early April in France and Germany.

Afghanistan is expected to top the agenda during Tuesday's talks at NATO headquarters. The Obama administration is strengthening the U.S. military presence there by another 17,000 troops, and Washington is looking for greater contributions from a skeptical Europe.

Analyst Thomas Valasek, of the London-based Center for European Reform, says European nations may not be willing to offer more without a clear strategy of how to curb a growing insurgency in Afghanistan and instability in neighboring Pakistan.

"Some big, important questions are open: Do we speak to the Taliban, or not? What do we do with Pakistan where the situation seems to be going from bad to worse? How can we avoid the constant barrage of civilian causalities which is undermining the credibility and popularity of the NATO force in Afghanistan? On all those questions, they will want to have a clear answer from the vice-president, " said Thomas Valasek.

Other questions revolve around plans to place a U.S. missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama administration appears to be less enthusiastic about the project than the former Bush administration, but Valasek says other NATO members are increasingly looking at missile defense as an option.

"The alliance has now on several occasions said it, too, is considering some form of territorial defense against missile strikes and it has specifically fingered the possible U.S. missile-defense system as a possible backbone of a future NATO missile-defense system," he said.

Mr. Biden may also raise the possibility of greater Russian cooperation on Afghanistan. Last week, NATO agreed to resume formal ties with Moscow, which were suspended after Russia's brief war with Georgia, last August.




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