- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania | Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reaffirmed Thursday the Obama administration’s commitment to a durable NATO alliance and rejected the notion of a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

His comments in a speech to a group of university students here was in part intended to counter concerns in the region over recent overtures President Obama has made to Russia — an outreach viewed with some suspicion in countries that bore the brunt of Soviet rule.

“I come here today with a straightforward, simple message,” Mr. Biden said. “The United States of America remains committed to our alliance with Europe, which we Americans believe, and continue to believe, is the cornerstone of American foreign policy. … As President Obama has said, there are no old members, there are no new members of NATO; there are just members. Under Article 5, an attack on one is an attack against all.”

Mr. Biden also repeated comments he made earlier this year in Germany that “the United States stands against the 19th century notion of ‘spheres of influence.’ We will not tolerate it, nor will we be co-opted by it.”

He promised, “We will never make a deal about anything with anyone above your heads or behind your backs.”

Aides said Mr. Biden picked Romania for the speech in part because the country suffered so severely under its Communist dictatorship and yet has seen democracy flourish since the fall of the Iron Curtain. In fact, the visit followed a vote of no confidence in Romania’s parliament, forcing Mr. Biden to squeeze in meetings with a caretaker government and opposition leaders.

The vice president, after a visit with the Romanian President Traian Basescu, referred to the flurry of campaign activity for next month’s presidential election and said he wished U.S. campaigns could be so short.

The four-day swing through Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic comes during what administration officials see as a period of transition for NATO. Mr. Biden described the Eastern European members as countries that once needed to lean on the U.S. for military and economic support, but have matured into “full partners.”

“You have begun to realize those dreams that only the bold imagined 20 years ago — a Europe whole and free, anchored in a European-Atlantic alliance, institutions of NATO, and the European Union,” Mr. Biden said.

The vice president’s top national security adviser, Antony Blinken, said the administration wants to see the countries of central Europe turn their focus from local agendas to global issues.

“The countries are no longer ‘post-Communist,’ or ‘in transition,’ ” Mr. Blinken said. “They are full-fledged members of the NATO alliance and the European Union with serious and substantial responsibilities.”

David Kramer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said it remains to be seen whether Mr. Biden’s trip will succeed in reassuring nations that have sought a U.S. or other NATO military presence “as reassurance.”

“New NATO members should have the confidence that NATO’s security guarantees are credible,” added Dan Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University. “That requires NATO to do the type of contingency planning that is its job. These efforts lagged in recent years. They should be revived.”

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