Munich Security conference looking beyond Europe to Asia

By Desmond Butler, AP
Friday, February 5, 2010

Munich Security conference looking beyond Europe

MUNICH — The Munich Security Conference opens Friday with an evening address by China’s foreign minister — a shift from the meeting’s traditional trans-Atlantic focus in a nod to the growing importance of Asia.

The prestigious gathering, in which world leaders and top diplomats talk policy in an informal setting, is also expected to focus on ongoing concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the development of the A400 transport plane, a seven-nation project through the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company that has been plagued with cost overruns.

The annual conference has long been a strategy session for U.S. and European leaders on defense cooperation. But in its 46th year, the forum’s organizers want to reflect Asia’s growing role on the world stage when officials, including Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, convene in Munich from Friday to Sunday.

This year, the U.S. delegation appears more modest than in the past, with top officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likely to skip out. Vice President Joe Biden headed last year’s U.S. delegation. This year, White House national security adviser, Ret. Gen. James Jones will be the senior U.S. official.

Germany will send Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

The event’s chief organizer, Wolfgang Ischinger, has said that trans-Atlantic security will remain the central theme of the conference, but that he has intentionally sought to include Asia.

Besides Jiechi, senior officials from countries including India and Pakistan are expected to attend. Jiechi will arrive in the wake of recent tension with the Obama administration over a U.S. announcement of a major arms sale to Taiwan and accusations that Chinese hackers broke into Google e-mail accounts to spy on activists.

Ischinger said the organizers also wanted to take on themes like climate change and global energy security.

Stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to again be a focus. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Guttenberg are expected to discuss NATO strategy in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. special representative Richard Holbrooke will also be in the mix among an estimated 300 participants.

U.S. and Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, will have the opportunity to discuss the progress of negotiations on a new arms control agreement to replace the Cold War-era START treaty and further reduce arsenals.

Both sides have said that an agreement is near. A group of ex-US and German officials and lawmakers, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Sen. Sam Nunn and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and President Richard von Weizsaecker, will be pressing U.S. and Russia to eventually eliminate their arsenals.

Security is expected to be tight at the event. German police say they are expecting around 5,000 demonstrators and have warned that some have called for violent protest.

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