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Egypt Likely To Scramble Agenda As Munich Security Conference Gets Under Way

  • RFE/RL

A police officer with a sniffer dog searches for explosives before the start of the Munich conference.

A police officer with a sniffer dog searches for explosives before the start of the Munich conference.

As the 47th Munich Security Conference gets under way in Germany's Bavarian capital, organizers are frantically trying to adjust the long-planned agenda to make way for talks on the unfolding events in Egypt.

A number of top international officials are attending the three-day conference, which was expected to focus on issues like nuclear nonproliferation and the global financial crisis.

But increasing violence in Egypt and the possible ouster of the country's longtime leader, Hosni Mubarak, will likely mean an eleventh-hour change to the schedule.

RFE/RL correspondent James Kirchick, who is in Munich for the conference, said, "I've been to this conference the last two years, and it's the same topics over and over again. It's Afghanistan, it's the financial crisis, and it's nuclear disarmament, and those seem to be the three main issues they're going to talk about this weekend.

"Now, of course, I'm sure that Egypt will come up, but they certainly weren't prepared for it, at least judging by the schedule."

The conference began with opening remarks by German Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

A panel on the global financial crisis follows, with panelists including financier George Soros and the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick.

Belarus Followup

The rest of the weekend will focus at least in part on Euro-Atlantic security, with panel discussions on nuclear nonproliferation, cybersecurity, and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be among the speakers.

Much of the business at the Munich Security Conference will take place on the sidelines.

Clinton is expected to meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to exchange documents on the new START weapons-reduction treaty, which both countries recently ratified.

The Mideast Quartet mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- which comprises officials from the EU, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations -- is also expected to meet during the proceedings. Clinton and Lavrov are expected to attend the meeting, in addition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who will be attending the conference, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that he plans to use the gathering as a chance to persuade his European colleagues that they should follow Washington in imposing economic sanctions on Belarus after a massive crackdown on the opposition there.

The EU has instituted a visa ban on some Belarusian officials but has stopped short of sanctions.

"We're going to be arguing that the European Union change that point of view because the fact is that Lukashenka and the people around him make an enormous amount of money from the oil and petrochemical companies that we hoped would be part of the sanctions," Lieberman said.

The Munich Security Conference runs through February 6. It was founded in 1962 by a German publisher, and is meant to provide an opportunity for world leaders to meet to discuss the pressing issues of the day.

with agency reports
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