Harris heads to Munich for high-stakes diplomatic trip

Originally Published: 16 FEB 22 19:18 ET
Updated: 17 FEB 22 07:38 ET

    (CNN) -- Vice President Kamala Harris is on her way to Munich for her latest high-stakes foreign trip as she leads the US delegation to the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

The conference comes as Russia amasses forces on Ukraine's border and the Biden administration has taken a central role in rallying Western nations and other allies to the Ukrainian cause. Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Harris will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this weekend while at the conference, her first meeting with the Ukrainian leader.

The vice president will maintain a "very intense" schedule when she is in Munich, the senior administration officials said. The meeting with Zelensky will be one of several high-level meetings Harris will hold.

"We are in a very decisive moment," a senior administration official told reporters on a preview call Wednesday. "The vice president is leading the US delegation to the Munich Security Conference this year, as a resounding signal that engagement with our allies and partners is an absolutely critical part of our overall diplomacy in our approach to this situation."

This will be the vice president's second trip to Europe, following on her trip to Paris in November. The vice president has visited several other nations, including Guatemala, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam. Her foreign policy portfolio has largely been focused on Central America, as President Joe Biden tasked Harris with addressing the root causes of migration in the region.

Officials say she will be discussing a "full range of issues" with foreign leaders, including unity between allies, the economic consequences that have been prepped if Russia were to invade and a diplomatic path to de-escalation.

The senior administration official described the vice president's key objective in Munich as three-pronged: Focus on the "fast-changing" situation on the ground, maintain full alignment with partners and send a clear message to Russia that the US prefers diplomacy but is ready in case of Russian aggression.

Officials would not detail what contingency plans are in place should an invasion occur while Harris is overseas.

"We are in a fluid situation," the senior administration official said when asked about contingencies. "This is something that we've talked about from the very beginning in terms of what we have seen, in terms of the buildup and the fact that it is continuing. And our determination to stand together with our allies to have very strong unity within NATO as well as across the European Union is unflagging."

The official added, "Her reason for going to Munich is to meet with what we think is over three dozen heads of state who will be there. She will hold these highest-level meetings to consult with them."

On Friday, Harris will meet with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and have a multilateral meeting with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

"(In) both of these meetings, she will discuss the latest developments related to Russia's buildup on Ukraine's border, our work together on deterrence and diplomacy, our force posture, and our readiness to further reinforce NATO allies on the eastern flank," the senior administration official said.

Harris will also on Friday hold a separate meeting with US congressional leaders who are attending the conference.

On Saturday, Harris will deliver her keynote speech, which comes at a very high-stakes moment for the administration and global politics. One of the senior administration officials said she will focus on addressing the situation on Ukraine's border, the threat of Russian aggression and the latest state of play. Harris is expected to tout the unity among US allies that the administration says they've maintained, as well as make the case that any invasion will leave Russia weaker while reassuring allies of the US' commitment to NATO and partners broadly.

After her speech, she's expected to meet with Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the margins of the conference, the senior administration official added, in addition to other foreign leaders who were not immediately named.

Harris' trip to Munich will be the highest and most public level of engagement she's had on Russia so far, and it will be watched closely by allies for any change in posture. The senior administration official told reporters that Harris and Biden have been repeatedly engaging with each other on the issue. Biden has attended this conference a series of times, when he was vice president and as a senator.

"The vice president and the President see each other often, multiple times a day. They are closely engaged on every aspect of the governing agenda," the senior official said, noting Harris' attendance at the President's Daily Briefings in the Oval Office "multiple times a week," and at a range of other meetings on Russia and Ukraine, while at the President's side.

This story has been updated with additional details.

The-CNN-Wire
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