US Vice President Mike Pence today led a chorus of reassurance for allies rattled by Donald Trump’s policy stance but European leaders gave the pledges a lukewarm welcome. Underlining US loyalty to its old friends, Pence told European leaders and defence experts: “The United States is and will always be your greatest ally.”
“Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he said at the Munich Security Conference.
Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and his softer approach towards Russia have unnerved Washington’s allies.
But Pence and other members of Trump’s administration — Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — stuck largely to the foreign policy rule book in a major European diplomatic foray this week.
On Russia, the US would not relent in pushing it to honour the Minsk ceasefire accords with Ukraine, said Pence.
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“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,” the vice-president said.
And Tillerson said the US would cooperate with Moscow but only when doing so “will benefit the American people”.
On NATO, Mattis emphasised that America remained “rock solid” in its support of Article 5 — the alliance’s core “one for all, all for one” collective defence tenet.
In response, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he “had no doubt that the American vice-president and the defence secretary will do everything to fulfil their commitments to NATO as in the past.”
But pressed for his view on Trump, Gabriel was terse. “I can only say what I have spoken about with Mr Pence. And that I have done and on that I have no doubt.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “struck that (Pence) had not at any moment mentioned the EU.”
“I don’t want to accuse Pence prematurely; he is going to Brussels on Monday and I hope that we will have a clear response on this question because Donald Trump gave the impression that he welcomes Brexit and that there would be more to come,” said Ayrault.
“The future will give more clarity on all the issues … I don’t believe in everyone for himself, in solving questions through force or through deals,” he said.
US politicians in attending the conference in Munich pointed to a chasm between what Trump’s envoys and the president himself said.
“Looks like we have 2 governments,” Democrat Senator Chris Murphy said in a tweet.
Pence spoke about “shared values between the US and Europe (but Trump) openly wages war on those values”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel made no direct mention of Trump in her address in Munich.
She however, championed a clear message of international cooperation rather than the feared isolationism of the president’s “America First” strategy.
“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” she said.