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The White House

Remarks by Vice President Biden at Press Conference with NATO Secretary General


Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release                                                         March 10, 2009

Remarks by Vice President Biden at Press Conference with NATO Secretary General

NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium

12:38 P.M. (Local)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much, Secretary General. I want to thank all the members for the warm welcome they've afforded me. And thank you for your leadership of the Alliance.

Less than a month from today, NATO is going to meet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NATO. There's a great deal to celebrate, but there's also a great deal left to do. The Alliance has been the cornerstone of our security since the end of World War II. And to state the obvious, it has anchored the United States in Europe. And I believe it's been helpful in forging a Europe whole and free. There's much to celebrate, as I said, but there's also much to do.

Our community of democratic nations faces extraordinary challenges: a worldwide economic crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen; the spread of mass destruction weapons and dangerous diseases; the growing gap between the rich and the poor; ethnic animosities and failed states; a rapidly warming planet and uncertain supplies of water, energy, and food; and the challenge to freedom and security from radical fundamentalism. And nowhere is that challenge more acute than in Afghanistan.

I know the people of Europe, like the people of my country, are tired of war, and they are tired of this war. But many of our citizens both here in Europe and at home question why we need to send troops and treasure so far from our homes. But we know, we know that it was from the space that joins Afghanistan and Pakistan that the attacks of 9/11 occurred. We know that it was from the very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack on Europe since 9/11, and the attack on Mumbai. We know that it was from this same area that al Qaeda and its extremist allies are regenerating and conceiving new atrocities to visit upon us.

As leaders entrusted with the security of our citizens, none of us -- none of us -- none of us can deny that the new threats of the 21st century must be dealt with. None of us can escape the responsibility to meet these threats.

And that's why President Obama ordered a full-scale strategic review of our policy with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He insisted that we consult with our allies and partners so that we produce a truly common vision of how to proceed. And that's what I had the privilege to do today at the North Atlantic Council.

I heard from our allies. I heard the concerns and they listed their priorities. And I pledged to them, as I pledge to all Europeans now, that we will build their ideas into our review, which we expect to present to President Obama before the end of this month, in preparation of the NATO summit in April.

I also shared with my colleagues some of the factors that are shaping our thinking right now, including the requirement that we set clear goals and achievable goals: We need to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, because success in one requires progress in the other; the imperative of a comprehensive approach with a strong civilian and diplomatic effort is necessary because we know there is no purely military solution to either Afghanistan or Pakistan; the centrality of building up Afghan security forces -- because our goal is not to stay in Afghanistan, it's to be able to leave, and to leave behind Afghan forces that can provide for the security and safety of the people of Afghanistan; and the need to ensure the security and legitimacy in this year's presidential elections.

In each of these areas, NATO and it member countries plays a critical role. So does the European Union. The Secretary General and I will meet with that leadership after this press conference. And I look forward to hearing from representatives of non-NATO countries, as well, who are doing so much in Afghanistan.

So we had a very good meeting. There was an incredible amount of consensus around the table. Each member country spoke, including two of the aspirant nations. And I came away with a much clearer sense of what our NATO friends would like us to consider in this review.

I might add this is not the end of the consultation; this is essentially the beginning of it. Each of the member countries is going to submit in more detail their concerns, their recommendations and their observations. They all will be taken into consideration -- because I know from my significant experience in this building -- over 37 years -- that we only succeed when, in fact, there is a real consensus. There's a need for a real consensus as it relates to Afghanistan.

END 12:45 P.M. (Local)