BRUSSELS—Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that the U.S. commitment to the European Union was “steadfast and enduring,” seeking to reassure European leaders anxious about Washington’s direction under the new administration.
Mr. Pence pledged stepped-up cooperation on terrorism and economic issues with Europe. He said the U.S. would continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.
“We are separated by an ocean but we are joined by a common heritage, and common commitment to freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” Mr. Pence said. “We are confident that bond will endure and grow.”
Support for the EU has long been a pillar of American foreign policy. But that has been thrown into doubt after an election campaign in which President Donald Trump frequently criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, demanded more military spending from allies and embraced Britain’s decision to depart the bloc.
EU officials welcomed Mr. Pence’s backing for the EU, which was far more positive than they expected in light of Mr. Trump’s comments. But questions linger in Europe about whether Mr. Pence truly speaks for the administration.
After the meetings, one senior EU diplomat cast doubt on whether the kind words are a definitive signal of the new administration’s approach. The reassurances, the diplomat said, are credible “until the next tweet” from Mr. Trump.
Mr. Pence has been on a multiday visit to Europe to try to soothe rattled nerves. At a Munich security conference on Saturday he pushed a message of strong backing for NATO, which Mr. Trump has called obsolete, but he didn’t mention the EU.
On Monday, as he did in Munich, Mr. Pence emphasized that he spoke for the Trump administration.
“President Trump and I look forward to working together with you and the European Union to deepen our political and economic partnership,” he told European Council President Donald Tusk.
Mr. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, said division in Europe would lead to the “disintegration of the West.”
Sunday evening, Mr. Pence dined with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, one of the most pro-EU leaders. Mr. Michel described the meeting as a “very intense exchange of views” where he emphasized the importance of U.S. support.
The Trump administration’s focus in Europe, beginning with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ visit to NATO last week, has included a push for the continent to spend more on its military.
EU officials say European security spending is broader, and includes large contributions to humanitarian and development aid. Ahead of Mr. Pence’s visit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe has long been told to spend more, but Washington must understand there is more to security and stability.
“This has been the American message for many, many years,” Mr. Juncker said. “And I am very much against that we allow ourselves to be bullied on this.”
Mr. Juncker on Monday also emphasized the importance of trade with Europe to the U.S. economy was greater than “some in the U.S. do think.”
“I do think the United States needs a strong, united European Union on all possible issues,” he said.
Privately, other EU officials have said the best approach with the new administration might be a gentle one that is responsive to U.S. demands.
EU and NATO officials said they were emphasizing how countries are moving quickly to increase military spending, with Romania announcing in recent days that it would hit the alliance spending goal this year, faster than planned.
In an interview last month, Mr. Trump said other countries would follow the U.K. in exiting the EU and that he was indifferent to the fate of the bloc, which he described as a vehicle for German interests—comments that ruffled some politicians.
“The one who caused the uncertainty must also be the one to remove it,” said Norbert Röttgen, a lawmaker in Ms. Merkel’s conservative party who chairs the foreign affairs committee in German parliament.
Source: The Washington Post
By: Julian E. Barnes and Laurence Norman
20 February 2017