By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will seek on Saturday to soothe allies unnerved by his boss’ unorthodox statements on Russia and NATO as he stresses America’s commitment to Europe during the first major foreign address for the Trump administration.
Pence will tell the annual Munich Security Conference that Europe is an “indispensable partner” for the United States, a message he will repeat privately in meetings with a dozen leaders over the weekend and on Monday, a senior White House foreign policy adviser told reporters.
“We are the most secure and most prosperous when both the U.S. and Europe are strong and united,” the adviser said, previewing Pence’s trip.
President Donald Trump alarmed allies during his campaign for office by breaking with traditional Republican views on the transatlantic relationship.
Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he said he would like to work to fight Islamic State militants, and has questioned the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In Munich, Pence will hold a series of meetings with leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and leaders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Pence will emphasize that Russia and Ukraine need to fully implement the Minsk ceasefire agreement, and will stand firm on economic sanctions on Russia related to its aggression in Ukraine, the adviser told reporters.
He plans to discuss counterterrorism in a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and the fight against Islamic State in meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the adviser said.
On Monday, Pence will hold several discussions with European officials in Brussels, including with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
His trip comes amid turbulence at the White House. Trump fired his national security adviser on Monday for misleading Pence over his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Trump was turned down by a replacement candidate on Thursday.
While Pence’s sentiments may be welcomed, it may take more than soothing words to provide comfort, given the depth of anxiety in Europe about Trump’s foreign policy, said Derek Chollet, a top defense policy adviser to former President Barack Obama.
“He will be trying to be reassuring, try to soften the edges of some of the president’s recent comments about Europe, put into context or explain – but I have to think that it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Chollet, now with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney)