Harris heads to Munich for high-stakes diplomatic trip

The conference comes as Russia is assembling forces on the Ukrainian border and the Biden administration has played a pivotal role in rallying Western nations and other allies to the Ukrainian cause. Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Harris will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this weekend at the conference, his first meeting with the Ukrainian leader.

The vice president will maintain a “very intense” schedule while in Munich, senior administration officials said. The meeting with Zelensky will be one of many high-level meetings Harris will host.

“We are at a very decisive moment,” a senior administration official told reporters on an introductory call on Wednesday. “The Vice President is leading the U.S. delegation to the Munich Security Conference this year as a resounding signal that engagement with our allies and partners is an absolutely essential part of our overall diplomacy in our approach to this situation.”

This will be the vice-president’s second trip to Europe, after her trip to Paris in November. The vice president visited several other countries, including Guatemala, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam. His foreign policy portfolio has largely focused on Central America, with President Joe Biden tasking Harris with addressing the root causes of migration in the region.

Officials say she will discuss a “full range of issues” with foreign leaders, including unity among allies, the economic consequences that have been prepared should Russia invade and a diplomatic path to de-escalation.

The senior administration official described the vice president’s key objective in Munich as being three-pronged: to focus on the “rapidly evolving” situation on the ground, to maintain full alignment with partners and to send a message. clear to Russia that the United States prefers diplomacy but is ready in the event of Russian aggression.

Officials would not detail contingency plans in place in the event of an invasion while Harris is overseas.

“We’re in a fluid situation,” the senior administration official said when asked about the contingencies. “It’s something we’ve talked about from the very beginning in terms of what we’ve seen, in terms of the buildup and the fact that it’s continuing. And our determination to stand with our allies to have a very strong unity within NATO as well as throughout the European Union is unshakeable.”

The official added: “His reason for going to Munich is to meet with what we believe are more than three dozen heads of state who will be there. It will hold these meetings at the highest level to consult them.

On Friday, Harris will meet with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and have a multilateral meeting with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“(At) these two meetings, she will discuss the latest developments related to Russia’s reinforcement on the Ukrainian border, our joint work on deterrence and diplomacy, our force posture and our desire to further strengthen allies. of NATO on the eastern flank,” a senior administration official said.

Harris will also hold a separate meeting Friday with U.S. congressional leaders attending the conference.

On Saturday, Harris will deliver his commencement address, which comes at a very important time for the administration and world politics. One of the senior administration officials said she would focus on the situation on the Ukrainian border, the threat of Russian aggression and the latest state of play. Harris is expected to tout the unity among U.S. allies the administration says it has maintained, as well as argue that any invasion will weaken Russia while reassuring allies of the U.S.’s commitment to NATO and its partners generally. .

After her speech, she is expected to meet with Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the sidelines of the conference, the senior administration official added, along with other foreign leaders who were not immediately named.

Harris’ trip to Munich will be the highest and most public level of engagement she has had on Russia so far, and it will be closely watched by allies for any changes in position. The senior administration official told reporters that Harris and Biden have spoken on the matter several times. Biden attended this conference several times, when he was vice president and senator.

“The vice president and the president see each other often, several times a day. They are closely engaged on all aspects of the government’s agenda,” the senior official said, noting Harris’ attendance at the president’s daily briefings in the Oval Office “several times a week,” and in a series of other meetings on Russia and Ukraine, alongside the president.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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