US reassures Europe on Nato and Russia, again
US vice-president Mike Pence crowned a week of American diplomacy in Europe on Saturday (18 February) by promising to stick by Nato and to take a tough line on Russia.
"The president [Donald Trump] asked me to be here today to convey a message, a reassurance - the United States of America strongly supports Nato and we will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance,” Pence told the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
“Be assured: president Trump and the American people are fully devoted to our transatlantic union,” he added.
He listed Russia’s attempt to “redraw international borders” in Europe as one of Nato’s main challenges.
He said Trump wanted to find “common ground” with Moscow, but he said the new administration would “hold Russia accountable” for its misbehaviour.
He also repeated Trump’s call for European members of Nato to spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs on defence in line with an old pledge.
“Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, fulfil this commitment,” he said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, who also spoke in Munich on Saturday, said: “We will do everything we can in order to fulfil this commitment.”
She voiced “great anxiety” over Russia’s aggression in east Ukraine and urged Moscow to back off in line with the Minsk ceasefire deal.
“The Minsk agreement is the only thing we have at the moment to move forward talks and the possibility of solving the problems,” she said, while noting that she was ready to work with Russia on combatting terrorism.
"The joint fight against Islamic terrorism is one area where we have the same interests and we can work together," she said.
“It is not Islam that is the problem but a falsely understood Islam,” she added.
She also said, in an aside on economics, that the current value of the euro does not serve Germany well.
“The ECB has a monetary policy that is not geared to Germany, rather it is tailored [to countries] from Portugal to Slovenia or Slovakia. If we still had the [German] Deutsche Mark it would surely have a different value than the euro does at the moment,” she said, referring to the European Central Bank (ECB), which sets the euro’s monetary policy.
The Flynn issue
Pence’s remarks on Nato and Russia came after a series of similar statements in Brussels, Berlin and Munich by senior Trump envoys this week.
The reassurances came after Trump floated the idea of a grand bargain with Moscow and after leaks showing that his aides, such as security advisor Mike Flynn, who was fired, had had clandestine contacts with Russian officials.
Merkel’s comments on Islam and on the euro also came after Trump tried to ban Muslim immigrants on security grounds and claimed that Germany forced the ECB to undervalue the euro to help its exports.
Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, told press on Saturday: “The big topic in Munich is looking to the USA to see which developments to expect next.”
He added that there was “still a lot of uncertainty” despite the US assurances.
John McCain, a US senator, also indicated that the Trump administration’s public diplomacy in Europe was designed to mask what he called “disarray” in Washington.
“The Flynn issue obviously is something that shows that in many respects this administration is in disarray,” he said in Munich on Friday.
Clash on Poland
Meanwhile, the EU’s internal divisions came to light at the Munich meeting in a public clash between Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner, and Witold Waszczykowski, the Polish foreign minister, on Friday.
Timmermans urged the Polish government to respect its constitution after a clash with judges that triggered a Commission monitoring operation. He also castigated the Polish minister for Warsaw’s “insulting reply” to the Venice Commission, a panel of international experts, on the issue.
Waszczykowski replied: “Please allow us to respect our own constitution, not your vision of our constitution.”
The minister bristled at a question from the floor which noted that Poland profited from over €50 billion in EU subsidies.
“Yes, €50 billion of subsidies go to Poland. And 80 percent goes back to Western Europe. We’re modernising the infrastructure, using Western technology. Who is earning this money? German [firms] make €50 billion in Poland,” he said.