US is always Europe's greatest ally, says Pence

V-P's pledge fails to fully reassure EU states wary of Trump's stance and a resurgent Russia

MUNICH • US Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday brought a message of support for Europe from Mr Donald Trump but failed to wholly reassure allies worried about the new President's stance on Russia and the European Union.

In Mr Pence's first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, he told European leaders and ministers that he spoke for Mr Trump when he promised "unwavering" commitment to the Nato military alliance.

"On behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports Nato and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance," he said.

"The US is and will always be your greatest ally," he told European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Munich Security Conference.

However, he said the allies must pay their fair share to support Nato, noting that many lack "a clear or credible path" to do so. But he did not go further and threaten, as Mr Trump had done, to walk away if the allies failed to pay their way.

Diplomats said he took a tougher tone than Mr Trump's defence chief Jim Mattis, who delivered a similar but more nuanced message in Brussels two days before.

The US provides around 70 per cent of the Nato alliance's funds and European governments have sharply cut defence spending since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia's resurgence as a military power and its seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea has started to change that.

Mr Pence also called on Russia to honour the international peace accords that seek to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. "Know this: the US will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found," he said.

While Poland's defence minister praised Mr Pence, many others, including France's foreign minister and US lawmakers in Munich, remained sceptical that he had convinced allies that Mr Trump would stand by Europe.

While the audience listened intently, Mr Pence received little applause beyond the warm reception he got when he declared his support for Nato.

European officials told Reuters in Munich there was still doubt about the direction of the Trump administration, particularly after US Senator John McCain told the conference on Friday that President Trump's team was "in disarray".

Dr Merkel, on her part, warned countries not to retreat from the international cooperation which she said is the only way to solve global problems. "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."

This includes working not only with Western partners, but also with Russia if possible - if Moscow once again respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states such as Ukraine, she added.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'US is always Europe's greatest ally, says Pence'. Print Edition | Subscribe