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Biden heads to Europe warning of “pernicious” new threats

US Vice President Joe Biden left for Europe on Wednesday, calling on the continent to adapt old security structures dating from the Cold War to the “pernicious” threats of a new and dangerous era.

Biden’s trip will include a speech to the European parliament in Brussels, talks with NATO leaders and a visit to Spain, as fears of eurozone financial contagion from Greece’s debt crisis mount.

In an opinion piece to be printed in Thursday’s International Herald Tribune, Biden said the United States would not change the trans-Atlantic security compact without its partners, but stressed that change was vital.

“We have built the most successful alliance in history, one that has kept the peace in the Euro-Atlantic region for more than 60 years and helped transform Europe into a beacon of democracy and prosperity,” Biden wrote.

“These achievements have been sustained by security institutions, principally NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, built through the cooperation of Americans and Europeans over decades.

“But now it is vital that we ask how these institutions, which have served us so well, should adapt to the challenges — and opportunities — of a new era.”

Biden said that the Obama administration would work to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic alliance along several parallel tracks, starting with working with Russia on the transparency of all conventional and nuclear weapons.

“We no longer see Europe in zero-sum, Cold War terms,” Biden wrote.

He said that Washington would also look at reciprocal limitations on the size and location of conventional forces, and would seek to combat security threats to Europe that come from outside the region.

Biden warned no European nation was immune from “new and pernicious threats,” including weapons of mass destruction, cyber-attacks, terror havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan and criminal networks.

“We must focus our efforts to address these external challenges and update our security arrangements to meet the true risks we face today,” he wrote in the opinion piece, a copy of which was released by the White House.

Biden’s program begins with talks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Thursday in Brussels on issues including the war in Afghanistan, US missile defense plans in Europe and relations with Russia.

He will follow up with an address to the European parliament and meetings with leaders including EU council president Herman Van Rompuy.

On Friday, Biden is scheduled to meet Belgian government leaders before heading to Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency, and will go directly into talks with King Juan Carlos.

He will return home to the United States on Saturday, after talks with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and other members of the Spanish government, Biden’s office said.

Last month, Spanish public radio quoted government sources as saying the talks would focus on US efforts to reach a new deal with the EU to allow US officials to again access Europeans’ personal data in anti-terrorism probes.

In February, EU lawmakers blocked a key agreement in the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program that allowed US access to information from the interbank money transfer system SWIFT to track suspect finances.

The main concern was that personal information, including data from electronic bank payments, would be used by US authorities, held for too long and handed on to other governments.

Data on SWIFT money transfers helped authorities detain suspects involved in an Al-Qaeda-directed plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights in 2006.