WASHINGTON -- U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden promised a "new tone" in U.S. relations with the rest of the world in a speech Saturday that sought to separate the Obama administration from the Bush presidency (see GSN, Feb. 6).
Biden argued that a series of international crises -- particularly the severe global economic crunch, but also "the spread of weapons of mass destruction and dangerous diseases" -- demand cooperative and preventive approaches that differ from the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action and coalitions of the willing.
The Obama administration is "determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America's relations around the world," he told a security conference in Munich. "That new tone -- rooted in strong partnerships to meet common challenges -- is not a luxury. It is a necessity."
"We'll work in a partnership whenever we can, and alone only when we must," he added.
Biden singled out U.S.-Russian relations as a focus for the Obama administration and vowed to make progress on some key arms control issues, such as extending key features of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in December (see GSN, Feb. 6).
"It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together," he said. "We can and should cooperate to secure loose nuclear weapons and materials and prevent their spread, to renew the verification procedures in the START treaty and then go beyond existing treaties to negotiate deeper cuts in our arsenals. The United States and Russia have a special obligation to lead the international effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world" (see GSN, Feb. 4).
He also suggested that the United States might not blaze ahead with plans to deploy missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, a Bush administration initiative that triggered a strong Russian reaction. Administration officials have said they are reviewing U.S. missile defense policies before taking specific positions (see GSN, Feb. 5).
"We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective," Biden said, and "we will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia."
In another speech Friday, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said he looked forward to a more cooperative relationship with the United States, but made it clear that Moscow continues to have serious problems with the concept of U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe.
"If one does it unilaterally without due respect of the interests of strategic stability of other parties involved as, for instance, is in the case with fielding of the U.S. missile defense European site, the situation cannot but result in increased tension," he said. "The potential U.S. missile defense European site is not just a dozen of antiballistic missiles and a radar. It is a part of the U.S. strategic infrastructure aimed at deterring Russia’s nuclear missile potential."
Ivanov pledged Russian support for deeper cuts to the two nations' strategic nuclear arsenals and suggested an agreement to ban "strategic offensive arms outside national territories." Such a pact would appear only to affect U.S. weapons, which are deployed in some European nations (see GSN, June 26, 2008). His speech did not say whether submarine-based weapons would be addressed by the agreement.
Ivanov also reaffirmed Russian interest in expanding the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a bilateral pact that banned a class of missiles that other nations are now acquiring in growing numbers (see GSN, Oct. 26, 2007). That goal is shared by the United States, according to a list of foreign policy presented on the White House Web site.