Germany, France dodge Afghanistan troop issue - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Germany, France dodge Afghanistan troop issue

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Posted: Saturday, February 7, 2009 5:14 pm | Updated: 12:46 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

MUNICH - NATO's top official chastised Germany and France for refusing to commit more troops to Afghanistan, but the two European powers skirted the issue Saturday even while agreeing that Washington should not be left to fight international conflicts alone.

Vice President Joe Biden came to the Munich Security Conference amid expectations he would forcefully repeat President Barack Obama's calls for greater European troop deployments in Afghanistan, as Washington prepares to double American troops there to roughly 60,000.

But Biden kept his Afghan comments general in an apparent attempt to avoid a public dispute among allies.

He asked only for European "ideas and input" on a joint Afghan strategy "that brings together our civilian and military resources that prevents terrorists a safe haven and that helps Afghans develop the capacity to secure their own future."

Delegates said they thought the broad-brush approach Biden took was appropriate.

"Vice President Biden came to Munich today in the spirit of partnership," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told AP Television News. "I think he set an ambitious agenda with big goals and high objectives and he called and challenged us to work with him and I think that's the right spirit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the general concept of more European military backing of the U.S. through NATO, but did not address U.S. calls for additional European deployments in Afghanistan.

"International conflicts can no longer be shouldered by one country alone," she declared. "No country can go it alone, so the cooperative approach needs to be guiding us."

Germany has argued that its military is already too stretched to send troops beyond the 4,500 maximum it has committed to the relatively calm north of Afghanistan. About 3,500 are now there. Instead, it says the focus should be on 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.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy argued for a Europe more ready to defend itself instead of relying on others, but also managed not to touch 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 political and military power."

But NATO's exasperated secretary general, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, said 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 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 U.S. to resupply troops in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan's president announced this week his country was kicking Americans out of the base after securing more than $2 billion in loans and aid from Russia. U.S. officials said Kyrgyzstan acted as a result of pressure from Moscow, but Russia and Kyrgyzstan denied that.

Biden urged European nations to take in Guantanamo detainees once the U.S. closes the detention facility for suspected terrorists. Several European nations are considering the U.S. request.

On Iran, Biden said the new U.S. administration was willing to negotiate but will isolate and pressure the Islamic Republic if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"We will draw upon all the elements of our power - military and diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, economic and cultural - to stop crises from occurring before they are in front of us," Biden said.

Iran asserts its intentions are purely peaceful.

The U.S. 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.

Saying defense shield plans remained on the table, Biden warned the U.S. would continue to have differences with Russia, including opposition to its efforts to carve out independent states in Georgia. But he said the two sides needed to cooperate on common interests.

"It was really a serious call to restart U.S. foreign policy - including, clearly, Russian-American relations," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international relations committee in Russia's lower parliament house, said on Russian state-run Vesti-24 television.

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