- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vice President Joseph R. Biden assured European leaders Saturday that the U.S. is not pursuing a policy of “containment” toward Iran, two days after U.S. Defense secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel mistakenly characterized the Obama administration’s policy.

“As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment — it is not containment,” Mr. Biden said at the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. “It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

During his confirmation hearing Thursday, Mr. Hagel told the Senate Armed Services committee that the administration had a policy of “containment” toward the Iranian regime. After an aide slipped him a note minutes later, Mr. Hagel corrected himself and said, “We don’t have a position on containment.”

That comment prompted Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to remind Mr. Hagel that the U.S. does indeed have a position on containment — “we do not favor containment.”

Mr. Biden didn’t mention Mr. Hagel’s stumble to the Europeans, but he did try to set the record straight. Addressing international sanctions against Iran for its nuclear ambitions, Mr. Biden said the Obama administration has “also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation.”

“There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed,” Mr. Biden said. “The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations” with the group of nations known as the P5-plus-1.

Noting Mr. Obama’s statements that the U.S. is a “Pacific power,” the vice president said many European leaders have asked him if the administration is taking its focus off of Europe.

“Europe remains America’s indispensable partner of first resort,” Mr. Biden said. “It is profoundly in Europe’s interest for America to engage more broadly with the world, and we should be doing it more fully together.”

He said peaceful engagement with China, especially, is in the world’s interests.

“We all have a role to play in encouraging Beijing to define its interests more in terms of common global concerns than merely introspective concerns,” Mr. Biden said. “The bottom line is that the U.S.A, Europe — we all have an important and specific interest in an Asia-Pacific region that is peaceful and growing –- as do our Russian friends and our Japanese friends.”

Mr. Biden is meeting Saturday in Germany with representatives of the Syrian opposition movement, and also is holding a one-on-one session with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on nuclear disarmament and other topics.

The vice president and his wife, Jill, are in the midst of a trip that will take them to Paris and London as well.