Joe Biden

Opening Remarks by the Vice President to the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Belgium

March 10, 2009

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, thank you very much, Secretary General, and thank you for the warm welcome. It's a pleasure to meet and greet every one of you.

To the NATO allies represented at this table, my purpose here today is quite straightforward and simple: I came to listen. I realize there may be some questions for our administration, but I primarily came here today to listen.

In January, President Obama ordered a strategic review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that our goals were clear and that they are achievable. And as part of that review, at that time the President pledged that we would consult closely with all of you in an attempt to form a -- and forge a common and comprehensive approach. That's why I'm here, straightforward and simple: I came to keep the commitment that the President made within weeks after becoming the President of the United States of America.

What we want to learn is what your countries believe are working, what you think is not working, how we can do a better job in stopping Afghanistan and Pakistan from being a haven for terrorists. And the United States believes that we share a vital security interest in meeting that challenge. Each of our countries has a vital interest in the -- from the point of view of the United States in meeting that challenge.

The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat, from our perspective, not just to the United States, but to every single nation around this table. It was from that remote area of the world that al Qaeda plotted 9/11. It was from that very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack in Europe since 9/11, including the attacks on London and Madrid.

And if I might add, we had a brief discussion with the Secretary General before I came in -- he was kind enough to host me in his office. I want to make it clear to you, from the perspective of the average United States citizen, an attack, a terrorist attack in Europe is viewed as an attack on us. That is not hyperbole -- that is not hyperbole -- because we understand and we view it as an attack on the West. And we view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States.

So please understand this is not a U.S.-centric view that only if America is attacked is there a terrorist threat. It was, as I said, from the very same mountains the attacks of 9/11 were planned and the attacks that have taken place thus far in Europe, and -- and -- it is from that area that al Qaeda and the extremist allies are regenerating and conceiving new atrocities aimed at the people around the world -- from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, to the United States, Europe, and Australia.

And our responsibility, in my humble opinion, each of our responsibilities, is, first and foremost, to protect our citizens. President Obama and I are deeply committed to NATO. Let's get that straight right from the start. There is no ambivalence on the part of our administration about the value and necessity of a strong, coherent NATO. We know that our Alliance works best when we've listened to each other. I had been a United States senator for 36 years before becoming Vice President. I have made multiple trips to this building. I've observed when we consult, when we genuinely consult, when we internally argue and bang out our differences, we generate the kind of consensus that our political leadership needs to take to our own people to make the case about what we've decided. When we build strategies together, it works.

And once we reach an agreement, when we commit to putting the full measure of our strength into achieving our common goals, then it works. I want to make it clear: We're here to consult; we're here to listen; we're here to come up with a joint common strategy. Once that is arrived at, we, the United States, expect everyone to keep whatever commitments were made in arriving at that joint strategy. It's as simple and as straightforward as that.

Together, I am absolutely confident we can handle not only Afghanistan, but many other crises we'll face in the 21st century. I'm also equally as confident that absent that kind of cohesion, it will be incredibly more difficult for us to meet the common threats we're going to face.

We always use the phrase, gentlemen and ladies, that we have common values, which brings us together. Well, that is literally true. And it's time for us to put it to work. Our administration is committed to doing that.

And again, I want to thank you, Secretary General, for the opportunity to be here. And thank you all for giving me the opportunity to come and hear what's on your minds. Thank you very much.

Joseph R. Biden, Opening Remarks by the Vice President to the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, Belgium Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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