Joe Biden, the US vice president, on Saturday set a new tone in Washington’s relations with Russia and Iran, declaring that the new US administration wants to “press the reset button” in its dealings with Moscow and would be “willing to talk to” the regime in Tehran.
Delivering the the Obama administration’s first major foreign policy speech to world leaders assembled at the annual Munich security conference, Mr Biden said that Washington and Moscow could not agree on everything, citing the Georgia conflict and referring to Russia’s resistance to its neighbours joining Nato.
But Mr Biden added: “The United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide and they coincide in many places.”
On Iran, the new vice president’s comments also marked something of a break with the George W Bush administration, reiterating Mr Obama’s pledge to communicate with Tehran.
However, Mr Biden also made clear that Iran, which is pressing ahead with uranium enrichment, faced an important choice. ”Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation,” he said. “Abandon your illicit nuclear programme and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives.”
Mr Biden’s speech contained no significant new policy announcements. On US plans for missile defence, there had been speculation that the vice president would announce a formal review.
But senior US officials said the emphasis of the vice president’s comments at the conference was that the Obama administration was committed to missile defence in principle, as long as it could work and was affordable.
”We will continue to develop missile defences to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost effective,” Mr Biden said. “We will do so in consultation with you our Nato allies and with Russia.”
The leaders of Germany and France as well as the deputy prime minister of Russia – all countries that clashed with Mr Bush—were all in the audience for Mr Biden’s speech.
Mr Biden, by contrast, promised to consult with nations on a range of other issues, “We’ll engage. We’ll listen. We’ll consult,” he said. “America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America.”
But he also made clear that the US would be asking for help from Europe on a range of issues.
“As we seek a lasting framework for our common struggle against extremism, we will have to work cooperatively with nations around the world—and we will need your help. For example, we will be asking others to take responsibility for some of those now at Guantanamo as we determine to close it. Our security is shared. So, too, I respectfully suggest, is our responsibility to defend it.”
He added: ”America will do more. That’s the good news. The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.