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U.S. holds Europe in arms while looking towards Asia

By Han Mo (Xinhua)

08:34, February 06, 2012

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- For Europeans, it's a signal of commitment when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are sitting together at the Munich Security Conference, the first time in the 50-year history of the forum. For Americans, they hope not only to show unity, but to create a greater sense of responsibility.

"I have heard all the talk about where Europe fits into American's global outlook. And I have heard some of the doubts expressed," Clinton said in a panel discussion on Saturday, referring to a widespread anxiety in Europe after U.S. president Barack Obama announced a "broad shift" to hug "a Asia-Pacific century" in November.

The United States' declaration of "strategic turn" to Asia was followed by concrete moves, including resetting priority of military deployment for the U.S. Army in January and a plan of withdrawing two of its four combat brigades, or 7,000 soldiers in number, from the European continent.

"There is no doubt that this change of strategy was a defining point. The period in which European democracies were American's most sought-after partnership is over," German historian Heinrich Winkler wrote in a recent article.

Facing with tens of counterparts from Europe in Munich, Clinton and Panetta made use of the annual opportunity to sing a different tune, with reassured commitment to its closest allies in the international arena.

"Europe is and remains America's partner of first resort. I have now traveled to Europe 27 times as Secretary of State. President Obama has visited 10 times," Clinton said.

When President Obama said Europe remains the "cornerstone" of our engagement with the world, "those aren't just reassuring words. That is the reality," She added.

The U.S. top diplomat then cited the joint efforts made by two sides on changing Libya, stabilizing Afghanistan and pressing Iran for its nuclear programs, adding that the traditional transatlantic ties have "never been more closely aligned in confronting the challenges of a complex, dangerous, and fast-changing world."

Panetta said that even with the calling back of U.S. troops, Europe is still the largest region that has American military residence. In Munich, he pledged to commit one U.S.-based brigade as Washington's contribution to the NATO Response Force.

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