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January 31, 2013

Joe Biden heads to Europe with Syria on the agenda

Vice President Joe Biden heads to Europe tonight with the ongoing violence in Syria likely to top his agenda, along with meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

At a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Biden will meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, the United Nations and Arab League joint special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and leaders of Syria's opposition council. 

"We expect a heavy focus on Syria," said Tony Blinken, Biden's National Security Advisor.

The conversations come as renewed violence in the country has increased calls for the U.S. to become more aggressively involved. Conversations are likely to include U.S. humanitarian aid, political and non lethal support to the Syrian opposition and "the political way forward," said Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications.

From Russia, Rhodes said, the U.S. is hoping to hear "an acknowledgement that (Syrian president) Bashir al-Assad must go."

Biden will be joined by his wife, Jill. In France, Biden will have lunch with Hollande, with an agenda that includes Syria, as well as the U.S.'s "strong support" for the French-African mission in Mali, Blinken said.

Rhodes said Biden made a similar trip to Europe at the start of Obama's first term to underscore the ties between the U.S. and Europe.

"It's very important for the vice president to carry a similar message," Rhodes said, noting there's a range of economic and security issues that require close cooperation.

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