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The war in Ukraine is a main priority at the Munich Security conference

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Germany for the Munich Security Conference, where the war in Ukraine is dominating the agenda. The global gathering is taking place almost a year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, and that is an anniversary that President Joe Biden is marking on his trip to NATO's eastern flank next week. For more, we're joined now by Esme Nicholson. Hi there.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Juana.

SUMMERS: So the Munich Security Conference is a big deal, and it attracts heads of state, military experts, top diplomats from around the world. So can you just start by telling us who Vice President Harris will be meeting with and what they are talking about?

NICHOLSON: Sure. Well, as you say, this is an important annual gathering, often dubbed the Davos of defense. And a lot happens on the sidelines. The vice president is sitting down for bilats with a whole host of leaders, including those of Germany, France and Great Britain. And unsurprisingly, Ukraine is a priority. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy opened the conference today via video link, and he appealed to allies to speed up the delivery of promised weapons and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin won't stop at Ukraine but is eyeing all former Soviet territory. Now, Harris is giving a speech tomorrow in which she's expected to reassure Kyiv and NATO allies that the U.S. is steadfast in its commitment to Ukraine, despite some Republican Party resistance to continuing the current level of aid.

SUMMERS: And this year, a lot of U.S. officials, a record number, in fact, are attending this conference that includes about a third of the U.S. Senate. Why is that? Is this just about the attention paid to Ukraine?

NICHOLSON: Well, many issues on the agenda are tied to the broader impact of Russia's war, from trade and inflation to energy, climate and supply chains. But Harris and the U.S. delegation are also in Munich to talk about China and maybe even to talk with China. Of course, China remains the USA's overwhelming foreign policy priority. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is attending, as is his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. And while there's still no confirmation of a sit down between the two diplomats, conference organizers hope that they will do so, not least to ratchet down temperatures between the two countries, but also to talk about Russian aggression because Wang Yi is actually heading to Moscow after the conference.

SUMMERS: So the Munich Security Conference is known for promoting dialogue even between nations that are in conflict. And yet this year, its organizers excluded officials from Russia and Iran in response to Moscow's war and to Tehran's brutal suppression of protests at home. What has been the reaction to that decision?

NICHOLSON: Yes. It is the first time since the 1990s that Russian officials have not been invited, although they were absent last year, just before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the general consensus at the conference is that it's right to draw the line at, quote, "war criminals and those who support their regimes." That said, excluding Russian and Iranian government officials is seen by some as going against the event's open dialogue policy, which strives to get adversaries in the same room to talk.

SUMMERS: That's Esme Nicholson. Thank you.

NICHOLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Esme Nicholson