Harris steps onto the world stage amid tensions over Ukraine | Politics
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris will face her most important foreign policy mission yet this weekend in Germany, where she will try to keep European allies united amid growing concern over the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
She will attend the annual meeting Munich Security Conference as President Joe Biden and other Western leaders warn that the threat of an invasion remains high despite statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is determined to continue the talks.
The Kremlin has made unverified claims that some of the roughly 150,000 Russian forces surrounding Ukraine have been pulled back to their garrisons. White House officials dispute that, saying intelligence shows Russia added 7,000 more troops near Ukraine in recent days and has intensified preparations for possible false flag operations that could be used as a pretext to start a war.
Harris is due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday and hold a multilateral meeting with the leaders of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on the sidelines of the Munich conference. She is due to deliver a major speech on Saturday about the administration’s efforts to stop Russian aggression. After the speech, she is expected to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Harris “would once again convey to the rest of the world our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies, our commitment to defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and our commitment to set up serious economic consequences if Russia invades.”
The Munich gathering has been used in recent years by US and Russian leaders to convey messages to a who’s-who of transatlantic leaders.
Then-Vice President Mike Pence in 2019 made a big deal for President Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview, receiving a lukewarm response from the mostly European crowd. Hours later, Biden, then a private citizen and not yet a 2020 presidential candidate, assured the European allies that “this too will pass” and “America will be back”.
In 2007, Putin took advantage of his own appearance in Munich to deliver a broadside against NATO, accusing the alliance of placing “its frontline forces on our borders”. At last year’s conference, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, new President Biden declared “America’s back” in a speech that addressed economic and security concerns. sparked by adversaries Russia and China.
Harris is traveling to Munich at a time when the Biden administration is trying to push Moscow to defuse what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
The Biden administration’s public efforts throughout the crisis have largely been entrusted to the President’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will also be in Munich.
But Harris has been a constant presence alongside Biden throughout the crisis, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters ahead of his trip. The vice president attends the presidential daily briefing with Biden almost every morning in the Oval Office. And she has been a constant presence in the White House’s strategic sessions on the fight against Russia, the person said.
Munich provides Harris with an opportunity to demonstrate his foreign policy credentials after what has been a sometimes turbulent first year as vice president. His portfolio includes solving a litany of difficult political problems that have no clear solution or immediate gain. Among the difficult tasks before him are pushing the administration for a suffrage bill and addressing the root causes of migration to the U.S. southern border.
“This is truly an important moment for Harris and the administration,” said Heather Conley, president of the nonpartisan German Marshall Fund of the United States. “I think if she can deliver a clear speech that not only reflects the inspiration of American leadership, but real action, the real meat of what they’re trying to do, that will make a big impression going forward.”
The conference, which begins Friday, will mark Harris’ fifth overseas trip as vice president. On previous trips, she visited Guatemala and Mexico; Singapore and Vietnam; France; and more recently Honduras.
Matt Bennett, executive vice president of center-left think tank Third Way and aide to Vice President Al Gore at the Clinton White House, said the Munich conference provides the kind of backdrop where Harris, a former prosecutor, can stand out.
“In the Senate, she was at her best when pleading her case against an adversary,” Bennett said. “These are the times she was made for.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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