BRUSSELS -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told the European Parliament that the United States and Europe now need each other more than ever.
Biden's comments, in a keynote address to European lawmakers in Brussels, come amid suspicions in many EU capitals that Washington's attention is drifting away from the Old Continent.
Doubts were aggravated after Obama declined to attend an EU-U.S. summit in Spain in March.
But Biden said he had an answer to those skeptics who continue to question the state of the transatlantic relationship.
"The relationship is as strong and important to all of us as it has ever been," he said. "The United States needs Europe, and, I respectfully submit, Europe needs the United States. We need each other more now than we have [ever]."
Despite the recent tensions, Biden received a warm welcome as he entered the parliament's debating hall to the strains of the EU anthem.
Biden began with a broad homily to the EU, whose seat in Brussels, he said, could vie with Washington for the title of "the capital of the free world."
He noted that together, the United States and the 27 member states of the EU represent more than 800 million people.
But like all U.S. representatives in recent years, Biden also reminded his audience that the United States needs "strong partners."
In practical terms, this suggests that while Washington is prepared to embrace some of the EU's priorities -- such as the fight against climate change -- it will judge Europe by its contribution toward facing down the challenges identified by the United States.
Biden today highlighted Afghanistan and Pakistan among those challenges.
"Across the troubled landscape of Afghanistan and Pakistan we are working together to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters and...to train an Afghan army and police force so that their government can eventually protect its own people and not be a threat to its neighbors," Biden said.A Changing World
Iran, Biden continued, was another area where America and Europe stand "side by side" in their efforts to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
He said Iran was being offered engagement if it "unclenches its fist."
But he warned that "Iranian leaders spurned our collective good-faith efforts and continue to take actions that threaten regional stability."
"Let me state it flatly," Biden charged, "Iran's nuclear program violates its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and risks sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."
One of the themes repeatedly invoked by Biden was that the United States believes the "world has changed utterly" since 2001, and the main threat now is from nonstate actors in possible possession of weapons of mass destruction.
In this context, Biden strongly pushed specific U.S. agenda items in talks with the EU, such as information sharing on terrorist suspects and their finances. The European Parliament, whose powers in this field were enhanced by the Lisbon Treaty adopted by the EU last year, has resisted U.S. demands for greater access to EU data.
Biden said the Obama administration understands EU concerns and the dilemma between security and basic civil rights is a "false choice." He was awarded a long ovation for describing rights like privacy as "inalienable," but the U.S. leader also emphasized governments have an equally fundamental duty to ensure the physical safety of their citizens.Offering Assurances
An opinion piece by Biden in today's "International Herald Tribute" offers more specific reassurances to the EU's eastern member states -- where concerns engendered by a possible U.S. pullback from the continent have been particularly pronounced.
Biden pledged in the article that the United States would not allow new spheres of influence to arise in Europe and that all countries must be assured territorial integrity and the right to choose their own security alliances.
The U.S. vice president also ruled out any new security structures or treaties, saying NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will continue to be the premier forums for such discussions.
That is seen by new allies in particular as essential to ensure both Georgia and Ukraine a say in the proceedings when Russia's proposals for a revamp of Europe's "security architecture" are considered.
But much of the article also confirms that Russia has taken center stage in Washington's plans for European security and the future of NATO.
Biden outlined a detailed program for easing tensions with Moscow, extending from measures aimed at securing "military transparency" and reciprocal limitations on conventional forces to joint action against threats emanating from outside Europe.