American vice-president Mike Pence vowed yesterday that the United States will “hold Russia accountable” even as President Donald Trump searches for new common ground with Moscow at the start of his presidency.
In an address to the Munich Security Conference, Pence also offered assurances to European allies that the US “strongly supports” Nato and would be “unwavering” in its commitment to it.
In his first overseas trip as vice-president, Pence sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression and have been alarmed by Trump’s positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin. The address to foreign diplomats and security officials also sought to reassure international partners who worry that Trump may pursue isolationist tendencies.
Pence said the US would demand that Russia honour a 2015 peace deal to end violence in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
“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 later met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed the conference just before he did. She stressed the need to maintain international alliances and told the audience, with Pence seated a few feet away, that Nato is “in the American interest”.
European countries along Russia’s border are rattled by the prospect of deeper US-Russia ties after Trump suggested sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be eased in exchange for a nuclear weapons deal, and after the president referred to Nato as “obsolete” in an interview before his inauguration. Trump has since stressed the importance of the alliance in his phone conversations with foreign leaders.
Pence also had meetings yesterday with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He also planned to meet Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The visit, which includes a stop in Brussels today comes amid worries in Europe about Russian aggression, Trump’s relationship with Putin and whether the new president may promote isolationist tendencies through his “America First” mantra.
Pence is also expected to meet the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US is embroiled in two separate wars. Trump has said the US may get a second chance to take Iraqi oil as compensation for its efforts in the war-torn country, a notion rebuffed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who will be meeting the vice president.
Trump’s immigration and refugee ban has angered a number of Muslim-majority countries affected by the order currently tied up in court, including Iraq – a key ally in the fight against so-called Islamic State.