One day after John McCain made a questionable diplomatic outburst when as part of a US diplomatic tour meant to reassure Europe, and NATO, of Trump's support, the Senator told participants at a Security Conference in Munich that the Trump administration is in "disarray", on Saturday morning Vice President Mike Pence did his best to return to conventional foreign policy after he vowed that the United States will "hold Russia accountable." In an address to the Munich Security Conference, Pence assured European allies that the U.S. "strongly supports" NATO and will be "unwavering" in its commitment to trans-Atlantic institutions like NATO.
Pence also said the U.S. would demand that Russia honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, to end violence in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-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.
To reinforce his message, he also tweeted the following:
We must hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine.
Know this: The US will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which @POTUS believes can be found.
Under @POTUS, the US will remain committed to ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries or allies.
As @POTUS has made clear, the US will fight tirelessly to crush these enemies & consign them to the ash-heap of history, where they belong.
Know this: The US will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which @POTUS believes can be found.— Vice President Pence (@VP) February 18, 2017
In Munich, the American allies were searching for clues from Pence as to how the Trump administration plans to deal with Russia in the aftermath of Flynn's departure, U.S. inquiries into Russia's involvement in the presidential election and Trump's past praise for Putin.
As previewed yesterday, in his first overseas trip as vice president, Pence sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russia - and have made their "nerves" rather visible by sending major military reinforcements to Eastern European nations - 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", the AP reported.
Our strength, & that of this alliance, is not derived solely from our strength of arms. It's born of the shared principles that we cherish pic.twitter.com/ADSrSWZA0J— Vice President Pence (@VP) February 18, 2017
After his speech, Pence met with the symbolic leader of the European establishment, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed the conference prior to the vice president. Merkel reiterated a recurring message and 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."
Merkel sent another shot across the bow of the U.S. drive toward protectionism with a call for broad multilateral cooperation, saying that no nation can resolve the world’s crises on its own, and argued for improving the international institutions that have underpinned the global order to safeguard them. “No nation can resolve the world’s problems alone,” Merkel said in a speech to the Munich Security Conference. “These great global crises can only be resolved together.”
“We all feel a sense of unbelievable challenges, that something is really at stake - whether we’ll all act together, or step back from our individual roles,” Merkel said. “I call on all of us - and I hope that we can find a common position - let’s make the world better together, then it will be better for all of us.”
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Pence also scheduled meetings Saturday with the leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — countries that have been most vocal about their fears of future Russian incursion. Pence also planned to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
As AP notes, "European countries along Russia's border are rattled by the prospect of deeper U.S.-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 tempered his language, stressing the importance of the NATO alliance during his telephone conversations with foreign leaders."
Of course, an alternative view of events is that the Ukraine fallout was the result of a CIA-sponsored violent presidential coup, meant to provide a legitimate basis for further NATO deployment along Russia's border. That narrative, however, has been largely designated to the "fake news" trash heap by the mainstream media and establishment powers.
To be sure, Europe was glad to receive Pence's "reassuring" message: "The vice president has sent reassuring messages through his own engagement but that hasn't been enough to dispel the concerns that you see in many parts of Europe," says Jeff Rathke, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There are such grave challenges that the U.S. and Europe faces that it only heightens the desire for additional clarity from Washington."
However, despite Pence's attempt to clear the air, the vice president did confirm that one of NATO's bigger fears remains on the table: Trump's demand that alliance members satsify their spending obligations. In his remarks, Pence reaffirmed what Jim Mattis said earlier in the week, when he reinforced the Trump administration's message that NATO members must spend more on defense.
NATO's 28-member countries committed in 2014 to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. But only the U.S. and four other members of the post-World War II military coalition are meeting the standard, Pence said.
Failure to meet the commitment, he said, "erodes the very foundation of our alliance."
"Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment and, for most, that means the time has come to do more," Pence said.
Pence is also expected to meet with the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. is embroiled in two separate wars. Trump has made clear his intention to defeat the Islamic State group. But he also said the U.S. 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 with the vice president.
Wha, if any, is the summary assessment? As some, such as King's College Alexander Clarkson have pointed out, there appear to be two distinct foreign policy axes emerging in the Trump administration - there is a Pence/Mattis/Haley foreign policy and a Trump/Bannon/Miller foreign policy.
So there is a Pence/Mattis/Haley foreign policy and a Trump/Bannon/Miller foreign policy while Tillerson is still trying to find his keys— Alexander Clarkson (@APHClarkson) February 18, 2017
It will be up to Rex Tillerson to provide the tiebreaker, even though so far the new US Secretary of State has yet to provide a concrete stance on any particular diplomatic topic.