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What will Biden say? I know, Sarkozy says


To many of the hundreds of defence experts, heads of state, ministers and journalists at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s speech was the keenly awaited highlight of the three-day gathering in Bavaria. Biden, on his first trip to Europe in his new role, was expected to lay out the foreign policy priorities of President Barack Obama’s administration to European allies, including Washington’s future policy on Afghanistan and Iran.

But well before Biden took the stage in the plush Munich hotel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the audience that he, at least, was already in the know about Biden’s speech. As Biden watched on from the front row, Sarkozy deviated from his speech on France’s policies towards NATO and the defence priorities of the European Union, and said with a smirk: ”I already know what the vice-president will say … because he sent me his manuscript in advance. “That’s part of good management,” Sarkozy said to loud laughter from the audience. Biden smiled, listening to Sarkozy’s comments over headphones through a translator.

Biden delivered his speech about an hour later, saying the new U.S. administration was determined to set a new tone in America’s relations around the world but also announcing it would ask for more from its partners. After talking about U.S. relations with Russia and Iran and detailing U.S. priorities in the Middle East, Biden turned towards Sarkozy, sitting in the audience. ”We warmly welcome the decision by France to fully cooperate in our structures,” Biden said, referring to Sarkozy’s plans to return France to NATO’s command structure. ”That’s the main reason the president got our speech,” he added. Sarkozy, sitting in the front row, grinned uneasily and squirmed in his seat. 

It is not unusual for leaders to circulate speeches to allies or journalists before they deliver them, but it is unusual for politicians to reveal publicly they have seen them. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband seemed to know in advance what Sarkozy would say, telling Reuters a day before the
French leader’s speech in Munich that he did not expect any major new announcement on NATO.