Pence: US Will Hold Russia Accountable 02/18 09:09
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought Saturday to calm jittery partners by
declaring that the United States, under President Donald Trump, would "hold
Russia accountable" and maintain steadfast support for NATO, the post-World War
II military alliance Trump once dismissed as "obsolete."
MUNICH (AP) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought Saturday to calm
jittery partners by declaring that the United States, under President Donald
Trump, would "hold Russia accountable" and maintain steadfast support for NATO,
the post-World War II military alliance Trump once dismissed as "obsolete."
In his overseas debut as vice president, Pence told foreign diplomats and
security officials attending the Munich Security Conference that the U.S. would
be "unwavering" in its commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance and Trump
would "stand with Europe." He pointed to their shared "noble ideals -- freedom,
democracy, justice and the rule of law."
Addressing violence in Ukraine, Pence said the U.S. would demand that Russia
honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, to end violence in
eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists. He did
not mention findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in
last year's presidential election to help Trump win the White House.
"Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even
as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes
can be found," Pence said.
Pence's address and a series of one-on-one meetings with world leaders along
the sidelines here sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned
about Russian aggression, including its annexation of Crimea. Many have been
alarmed by Trump's positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pence's speech aimed to reassure international partners who worry that Trump
may pursue isolationist tendencies.
After his speech, Pence met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called
for the maintenance of international alliances and told the audience, with
Pence seated nearby, that NATO is "in the American interest."
Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, told the conference after Pence's
speech that Moscow wanted "pragmatic relations" with the U.S. He said he hoped
that "responsible leaders" would choose to create a "just world order, if you
want you can call it a post-West world order."
European countries along Russia's border are rattled by the prospect of
deeper U.S.-Russia ties after Trump suggested sanctions -- contrary to the
opinions of Merkel and other world leaders -- imposed after Russia's annexation
of Crimea could be eased in exchange for a nuclear weapons deal. The president
referred to NATO as "obsolete" in an interview before his inauguration, but has
since tempered his language and has stressed the importance of the alliance
during telephone conversations with foreign leaders.
But mindful that the new U.S. president often lashes out on Twitter, some
attendees remained skeptical that the speech represented Trump's thinking and
said his foreign policy moves would be closely watched.
"We are waiting for actions," said Polish President Andrzej Duda. "We only
know what the media has reported and the statements that we've got. Now we are
waiting for actions of the new government of Donald Trump."
Wrote U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Twitter: "Looks like we have 2
governments. @VP just gave speech about shared values btwn US and Europe as
@POTUS openly wages war on those values."
Michael Chertoff, a former Homeland Security secretary under U.S. President
George W. Bush, noted that Pence's comments about NATO and Europe echoed
assurances given by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. "They've all been consistent
about the fact that there is a strong, deep and enduring commitment to Europe
and to NATO and I think that message has been received," Chertoff said.
In his remarks, Pence also reinforced the Trump administration's message
that NATO members must spend more on defense.
NATO's 28-member countries committed in 2014 to spending 2 percent of their
gross domestic product on defense within a decade. But only the U.S. and four
other members of the post-World War II military coalition are meeting the
standard, Pence said.
Failure to meet the commitment, he said, "erodes the very foundation of our
"Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects
our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment and, for most, that
means the time has come to do more," Pence said.
In a day of meetings and photo ops, Pence was sitting down with the leaders
of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and separately with
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko -- countries dealing with the threat of
Russian incursion. The vice president also scheduled a meeting with Turkish
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The former Indiana governor's stature within the administration was also
under scrutiny after the recent dismissal of Trump's national security adviser,
retired Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign Monday following reports
he misled Pence about contacts with a Russian diplomat. The vice president
learned that he had been misled through media accounts about two weeks after
the president was informed.
Pence also met with the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S.
remains embroiled in two separate wars. Trump has made clear his intention to
defeat the Islamic State group. But he also said the U.S. may get a second
chance to take Iraqi oil as compensation for its efforts in the war-torn
country, a notion that has been rebuffed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider
Trump's immigration and refugee ban has ruffled feathers with a number of
Muslim-majority countries affected by the order, which is currently tied up in
court, including Iraq -- a close ally in the fight against IS. Trump has
promised to issue a revised order, possibly as soon as next week.