Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pence and Merkel Embrace NATO But Differ on Transatlantic Partnership
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Vice President Mike Pence spoke Saturday at the Munich Security Conference. (Matthias Schrader/AP)

By Michael Birnbaum and Ashley Parker
Washington Post
February 18 at 4:58 AM

MUNICH — Vice President Mike Pence and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday offered dueling assessments of the troubled transatlantic relationship, as both praised NATO but Pence made no mention of the European Union, the key economic and political pact that binds Europe together.

In back-to-back speeches at the Munich Security Conference, Merkel and Pence appeared to find common ground about NATO, whose members have been pushed by President Trump for greater spending. But while Merkel praised the broader international organizations that have been a key part of the post-Cold War global order, Pence’s silence on the EU may only fuel fears among European allies that the new leadership in the White House will embrace only some aspects of European unity, while rejecting others.

Pence offered a robust embrace of U.S. security commitments to Europe, seeking to tamp down speculation that Trump would pursue a new path that would abandon guarantees that European nations feel they need to keep them safe from Russia.

“Today, tomorrow, and every day hence, be confident that the United States is now and will always be your greatest ally,” Pence said. “Be assured: President Trump and the American people are fully devoted to our transatlantic union.”

Trump has repeatedly called NATO “obsolete,” but U.S. officials in Europe this week, including Pence and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, appear to be concentrating more on pushing allies to meet NATO defense spending commitments rather than focusing on Trump’s desire for a new relationship with the Kremlin, a major fear in Europe.

“Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, fulfill this commitment, and for most that means the time has come to do more,” Pence said, pausing for applause that came only haltingly.

Speaking immediately before Pence, Merkel sought to quiet rising voices in Europe that say that the continent should prepare to turn away from Trump’s United States and embrace partners such as China. She said that even as Europe strengthens its own defense capabilities, it will never be able to fight terrorism without the United States.

“The challenges of this world today cannot be mastered by one state alone. It needs a cooperative effort. We need to forge ahead with multilateral structures. We have to strengthen them,” Merkel said.

“Let me address this very openly. The Europeans alone cannot cope with fighting international Islamist terrorism. We also need the support of the United States.”

But she also pushed for an approach that does not alienate Muslim allies, a fear that has spiked following Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims and his attempts to impose a travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Cooperation with the United States is very important to us. But what’s also important to us is that Islamic states have been incorporated into this coalition,” she said, referring to efforts to combat the Islamic State.

“Only this way will we be able to convince people that it is not Islam that is the problem but a falsely understood Islam.”

No comments: