Biden heads to Europe

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US Vice President Joe Biden left Washington for Europe on Wednesday, as fears of eurozone financial contagion from Greece's debt crisis mount, sending jitters through global markets.

Biden is due to meet leaders of NATO and the European Union to discuss security and economic issues and will make a major address to the European parliament in Brussels.

He will then travel on to become the most senior Obama administration official to visit Spain.

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

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

On Friday, Biden is set to meet Belgian government leaders before heading to Spain, the current EU president, 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 of 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.

European ministers last month reached an agreement on a framework to open negotiations with Washington on the issue.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based near Brussels, deals with trillions of dollars in global transactions daily between nearly 8,000 financial institutions.

© 2010 AFP

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