Washington briefing: Biden: U.S. seeks cooperation with Russia while noting disagreements

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday February 13, 2009

Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 7, 2009. Harald Dettenborn

Washington - Vice President Joe Biden was the star speaker at the Munich Security Conference, an annual event held last weekend. In his February 7 address, Mr. Biden recalled President Barack Obama's offer to "reset" relations with Russia in order to reverse the "dangerous drift" in relations and focus ties on cooperative subjects such as nuclear disarmament and non­proliferation.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was in attendance, reportedly welcomed what he termed a "strong signal" from the United States and a "very positive" meeting with Mr. Biden.

But in his address, Mr. Biden also referred to disagreements with Russia, promising not to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, former autonomous areas of Soviet Georgia now recognized as independent states by Russia.

This week the State Department expressed "regret" about Russia's plans to establish military bases in both places, urging Moscow "to respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

And in allusions to Russian dominance in the former Soviet space and Georgia's efforts to join NATO, the vice president said in Munich that the United States "will not recognize a sphere of influence" and will support countries' "own decisions [to] choose their own alliances."

While in Munich, Mr. Biden met with embattled Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili, who in recent months has kept a low international profile, said that Mr. Biden promised continued U.S. support.

But according to Reuters, unlike his predecessors in the Bush administration, Mr. Biden declined to endorse Georgia's NATO bid outright.

"I'm in favor of Georgia's continued independence and autonomy," he said, adding that seeking NATO membership "is a decision for Georgia to make."

Writing on February 8, RFE/RL regional commentator Ahto Lobjakas suggested Georgia was "fading on EU [and] NATO radar screens."

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