Posted: 20/2/2017



Seeking to reassure European allies unnerved by President Donald Trump’s support for Brexit and criticism of NATO, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with senior EU officials Monday and issued a strong statement of solidarity and commitment to working with the European Union.

Pence, after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, said he had reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO during a speech at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend.

“But the president did ask me to come here to Brussels, to the home of the European Union, and deliver an additional message,” he said. “And so today it is my privilege, on behalf of President Trump, to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union.

“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose: to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law. And to those objectives, we will remain committed.”

It was a sharp change of tune and tone for the Trump administration, which had previously seemed to be rooting for further fragmentation of the EU as it cheered the U.K.’s exit from the bloc.

EU officials were further distressed over Trump’s remarks during the election campaign, when he called NATO “obsolete.” He also referred to Brussels as a “hellhole” — a comment he later sought to moderate by declaring at a rally last spring that “Belgium is a beautiful city.” The last remark drew criticism from Hillary Clinton about Trump’s seemingly weak grasp of geography.

Pence sounded a number of reassuring notes Monday, including reiterating America’s role as a partner with Europe in fighting terrorism.

“The United States is committed to continuing and expanding our collaboration on the collective security of all of our peoples,” he said. “The safety and security of your Union and our people depends on that increased collaboration in the global fight against terrorism and the United States will remain a full partner with the EU and with all of our European allies to accomplish that.”

And Pence also said the U.S. would continue to work with the EU to pressure Russia over its intervention in Ukraine.

“Clearly we must stand strong in defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations in Europe,” Pence said. “In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international efforts by force, we will support efforts in Poland and the Baltic states through NATO’s enhanced forward presence initiative. And with regard to Ukraine, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that Russia honor the Minsk agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine.”

Pence closed his remarks with a particularly robust statement of fidelity.

“The United States’ commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring,” he said. “President Tusk, President Trump and I look forward to working together with you and the European Union to deepen our political and economic partnership. We are separated by an ocean, but we are joined by a common heritage, and by a common commitment to freedom, democracy and to the rule of law, and we are confident that bond will endure and grow in the years ahead.”

At the start of their news conference, Tusk said the meeting with Pence was of vital importance.

“Too much has happened over the past months in your country, and in the EU; too many new, and sometimes surprising, opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations — and our common security — for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be,” Tusk said. “Thank you for being so open and frank with me, Mr. Vice President.”

Tusk also directly addressed Trump’s criticism of NATO and the president’s calls for increased military spending by NATO allies.

“We should also, I believe, agree on one thing,” Tusk said. “The idea of NATO is not obsolete, just like the values which lay at its foundation are not obsolete. Let us discuss everything, starting with financial commitments, but only to strengthen our solidarity, never to weaken it.”

Tusk, after recalling life in communist Poland, said he was reassured by Pence’s visit about the future of EU-U.S. relations.

“What I vividly remember from my own past is how after martial law was imposed in Poland on 13 December 1981, President Ronald Reagan urged all Americans to light a ‘solidarity candle’ on Christmas Eve, as he did himself,” he said, adding that it “helped bring back hope and the determination not to give in.”

“In your speech,” Tusk told Pence, “you also highlighted the historic role of some American and European leaders, including Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa. I was lucky to cooperate closely with the two of them in difficult times. Similarly to us, they all believed in the purpose of cooperation and solidarity between Europe and the U.S. We cannot let their efforts go to waste. After today’s talks it will be easier for me to believe that we will fulfill this task.”




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