Pence And Mattis Commit To NATO, But Ask Europe For More Help Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis talked at the Munich Security Conference this week. They reinforced the U.S. commitment to NATO and asked other countries to spend more.
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Pence And Mattis Commit To NATO, But Ask Europe For More Help

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Pence And Mattis Commit To NATO, But Ask Europe For More Help

Pence And Mattis Commit To NATO, But Ask Europe For More Help

Pence And Mattis Commit To NATO, But Ask Europe For More Help

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515921413/515921416" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis talked at the Munich Security Conference this week. They reinforced the U.S. commitment to NATO and asked other countries to spend more.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Top administration officials in Munich at an annual security conference - they're trying to reassure European allies that President Trump won't abandon them. Vice President Mike Pence told the audience, Russia must be held accountable for its actions in Ukraine, even as Trump searches for new common ground with Moscow. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Munich.

Soraya, thanks so much for being with us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: You're welcome. Good morning.

SIMON: And fill us in on what Vice President Pence said.

NELSON: Well, he's focused a lot on NATO. And he assured the alliance that America's, quote, "unwavering commitment" would continue. But he also pointed out that only 1 of every 6 member states is actually funding their defense budget as legally required.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance.

NELSON: But there was a lot of pushback from the European side on that, including by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany who suggested it would be a mistake to focus only on the numbers. The NATO secretary general, meanwhile, rejected that. Pressure by Trump is why the alliance members were actually putting in more money now. He says that last year, NATO spending increased by $10 billion, or nearly 4 percent.

SIMON: Were, near as you can tell, Soraya, European allies reassured by Vice President Pence's remarks saying that the Trump administration supports NATO wholeheartedly and the appearance by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis?

NELSON: Well, it's pretty striking that there didn't seem to be that response or warmth that maybe he was looking for. He didn't do a question-and-answer session, which is really unusual here at the security conference. There was tepid applause for the vice president, and that spoke volumes when compared to the reaction to Merkel, who spoke immediately before he did.

There were also a number of comments from European leaders that seemed to be loosely aimed at the Trump administration, for example, Merkel calling for improved multilateral cooperation as the only way to address the world's woes.

SIMON: The vice president also told the assembled that the international community needs to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine. Now, this comes at a time in this country when people are debating sanctions and did the Trump administration promise that they would lift sanctions. I wonder if the vice president got specific on what holding accountable means.

NELSON: He didn't really say anything other than that Russia must abide by the Minsk agreement, and that's certainly something that everybody is saying. It's aimed at ending fighting in eastern Ukraine. There probably was a lot more said behind closed doors, as he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as - he was planning to meet with leaders of the Baltic states and Ukraine as well today.

SIMON: And I gather that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said it wasn't us meddling in the U.S. elections.

NELSON: Yeah. He didn't directly refer to Pence in his comments, but he did criticize NATO expansion and individual European leaders. He says that what Russia is looking for is a, quote, "pragmatic" relationship with the U.S. as well as mutual respect and understanding of each country's special responsibility for global stability.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Munich.

Thanks so much for being with us.

NELSON: You're welcome, Scott.

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Pence Seeks To Reassure Nervous European Allies, Vows U.S. Commitment To NATO

In a speech in Munich Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. "strongly supports" NATO. Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images

In a speech in Munich Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. "strongly supports" NATO.

Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence told European allies Saturday that the U.S. remains committed to NATO, despite President Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and stated interest in pursuing better relations with Russia.

In a speech during his first overseas trip since taking office, Pence told leaders at the Munich Security Conference in Germany that the U.S. "strongly supports" NATO and that "the United States is now and will always be your greatest ally."

But Pence echoed President Trump's demand for NATO members to spend more on beefing up their military capacity, saying that the promise to "share the burden" has gone "unfulfilled" by almost all of the alliance's 28 member countries. Members of NATO have committed to spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense, but Pence said the U.S. and only four other NATO members actually do.

Pence also sought to put distance between the Trump administration and Russia as recent reports have said that Trump campaign staff had contact with Russian intelligence and that former national security adviser Mike Flynn spoke with Russia's ambassador about sanctions.

"The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable" for actions in Ukraine, Pence said, adding that Russia must follow the 2015 Minsk peace agreement. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and has supported pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The annexation of Crimea has especially made Eastern European Baltic states nervous that the U.S. would not follow through on NATO's Article 5 — that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies." As NPR's Lucian Kim noted last year, "the United States has been leading a military buildup in Eastern Europe to ensure the same won't happen to NATO's newest allies."

But Trump has made those countries jittery by calling NATO "obsolete," praising Putin as a strong leader and saying he "would love to be able to get along with Russia." Trump has also praised the U.K.'s "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union.

President Trump's Secretary of Defense James Mattis made some of the same points as Pence when he addressed the conference Friday, saying Trump "has thrown now his full support to NATO," and pressing members to spend more on defense.

Pence is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine on Saturday, according to The Associated Press, and has planned a visit to Brussels on Sunday and Monday, where the European Union is headquartered.