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VP Joe Biden: 'Take the training wheels off' in Afghanistan

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Biden on Afghanistan: 'Making progress'
  • Biden says the U.S. will soon "take the training wheels off" in Afghanistan
  • Biden said Afghanistan was "neglected" for 8 years prior to Obama taking office
  • He predicts that the U.S. will soon ratify a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms treaty
  • He says top Republicans and Obama will discuss tax cuts in a meeting next week

(CNN) -- While defending the military surge in Afghanistan after eight years of what he termed "neglect," Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that Afghan leaders could soon be left on their own, whether they're ready or not.

"We had to say, 'Look, you've got to step up, man,'" Biden said Thursday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"Let me tell you, we're going to start -- Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off ... next July, so you'd better practice riding."

Biden said that President Barack Obama charged him with reexamining the Afghan conflict soon after coming into office, and since then U.S.-led forces have made "significant progress against al Qaeda." He said that U.S. forces and officials have done a great deal to help the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai, including working with Afghans to improve their governance and security capabilities.

But that guidance and assistance -- including the military presence -- won't last forever, Biden said, given deadlines set to begin moving troops out next summer with eyes on a total withdrawal by 2014.

Biden: Unemployment makes it hard to win
  • Joe Biden

"All of NATO has said, "Look, we agree: We're going to begin to transition and by 2014, it's theirs to take care of themselves in terms of their own security,'" the vice president said of Afghanistan.

Iraq, in comparison, is "doing very, very well" with the United States' steadily diminishing military presence proceeding according to plan.

"We're going to leave behind a stable government because the Iraqis stepped up to the ball," Biden told King. "Politics broke out in Iraq."

The former chair of the Senate's foreign relations committee expressed optimism that Republicans and Democrats would soon reach an accord on the New START nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States. On Thursday, Obama tapped him as the administration's point-man to reach a resolution before the new Congress convenes in January.

Obama has called ratification of the treaty -- which would restart mutual inspections, while limiting both nations to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each -- a priority during Congress' lame-duck session, saying it's critical to national security and a cornerstone of U.S.-Russia relations. But ten GOP senators, led by Arizona Sen. John Kyl, have urged a delay until next year over concerns about the current congressional workload and over modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"I think we're going to get it," Biden said.

The vice president also addressed domestic matters, including the debate over extending the tax cuts passed under former President George W. Bush. Biden said that the administration believed cuts should be made permanent for all except the top 2 percent of wage-earners -- contrary to Republicans' view that all tax cuts, including for the wealthiest Americans, should be made permanent.

But the vice president left the door open for movement, pointing to a November 30 meeting between Obama and Republican congressional leaders.

"We're going to be sitting down (and) say, 'Guys, here's our position, what's yours, and let's see if we can work something out,'" he said. "We're not looking for confrontation."

Biden touched on the aftermath of the recent mid-term election, in which Democrats lost control of the House and lost seats in the Senate. He said that, for the next two years, the administration would redouble its focus on "American competitiveness (and) American jobs."

Voters' main message in November, according to the vice president, was that they had had enough of politics as usual in Washington, including the two major parties inability to get things done.

"The message was they didn't have a lot of faith in Republican Party and they don't have a lot of faith in the Democratic Party," he said. "And so it's like, OK, we want you guys to work together."

But one person the vice president said he does have faith in is Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will go from House speaker to minority leader in January.

Saying it's understandable Pelosi's image was tarnished by $65 million in negative campaign ads, Biden described the California Democrat as a "great leader" and "the most effective person in generating results in the House."

"She's a very, very effective and competent person," said Biden. "She gets things done.... This one tough, smart lady."