WHITE HOUSE — The civil war in Syria will be a major topic when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets with leaders in three European nations, starting Friday. Biden will visit Germany, France and Britain.
The main event of the vice president’s first overseas trip of his second term will be an address at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. He also spoke at the conference shortly after the Obama administration took office four years ago.
While in Munich, Biden will discuss the bloodshed in Syria with several officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters Thursday the vice president will ask Lavrov for a clearer statement on Russia’s position on Syria.
“What we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgement that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government," said Rhodes.
Rhodes said the Syrian government has “completely failed to maintain its own domestic and international legitimacy."
In Munich, Biden is also expected to discuss Syria with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League special representative for Syria, and Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the vice president will talk with al-Khatib about U.S. support for the Syrian opposition’s efforts to build a democracy after President Assad’s government falls.
“We will continue to work with the Syrian opposition to help it organize itself and help it in its work to prepare for a post-Assad Syria," said Carney.
Syria is also expected to be on the agenda when the vice president meets with the leaders of Germany, France and Britain.
Biden’s first meeting is with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday in Berlin. In addition to Syria, they are likely to address the global economy, Afghanistan, and Iran’s nuclear program.
On Monday, the vice president will be in Paris, meeting with French President Francois Hollande. Their talks also will cover the eurozone and economic relations between the U.S. and the EU.
One of their main items will be U.S. support for the French intervention against Islamic extremists in Mali. Biden’s national security adviser, Tony Blinken, says the extremist threat across North Africa and the Middle East is due to several factors.
“The reality of porous borders, ungoverned territory, too-readily-available weapons, increasing collaboration among some of these groups, and, in many cases, a new government that lacks the capacity and sometimes the will to deal with the problem," said Blinken.
The final stop of the vice president’s trip will be London, where he will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, on many of the same issues covered in the first two stops.