Joe Biden in Finland, en route to Moscow, Moldova

AP News
Posted: Mar 07, 2011 12:30 PM
Joe Biden in Finland, en route to Moscow, Moldova

Finland, Russia and Moldova _ U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived Monday in Helsinki on the first leg of an unusual European tour aimed at building warmer ties between Washington and Moscow.

Biden also wants to signal support for "ongoing democratic and economic changes" in Moldova _ one of Europe's poorest countries, which has been seeking closer ties with the European Union.

On Tuesday, Biden meets with Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi. Then he continues to Moscow for meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before flying to Moldova.

Tony Blinken, Biden's national security adviser, said the Moscow talks would focus on missile defense cooperation and Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization. Blinken said it was time to review progress on moves to "reset" U.S.-Russian ties, as outlined in Moscow in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

"Today, two years later, we can see the practical and important results of the reset, including the new START Treaty, Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, much deeper collaboration on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea," Blinken said. "(It's) is an opportunity to take stock of the reset, what we've achieved and where we hope to go next."

Biden's aides said his first trip to the region would include talks in the Finnish capital "on a broad range of issues," including Afghanistan, the EU, and innovative and green technologies.

Blinken described Finland as "a strong advocate for close U.S.-E.U. relations," saying it was "past time to return to acknowledge the vitality and strength of our relationship."

The previous White House visit was in 1997, when President Bill Clinton came to Helsinki.

The State Department said the high-tech sector in Finland _ home of Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker _ was of interest to U.S. investors.

Biden will be visiting Moldova it celebrates 20 years of independence after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.