U.S. Vice President Mike Pence sought on Feb. 18 to assure Europe that the United States will back NATO even as it looks for new ways to cooperate with Russia at the Munich Security Conference, but was greeted by muted applause by European allies unnerved by U.S. President Donald Trump.
In Pence's first major foreign policy address for the new Trump administration, the vice president told European leaders and ministers that he spoke for Trump when he promised an "unwavering" commitment to the NATO military alliance.
Trump's contradictory remarks on the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), skepticism of the 2015 deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and an apparent disregard for the future of the European Union have left Europe fearful for the seven-decade-old U.S. guardianship of the West.
Pence, citing a trip to Cold War-era West Berlin in his youth, said the new U.S. government would uphold the post-World War Two order.
"This is President Trump's promise: we will stand with Europe today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals - freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law," Pence told the Munich Security Conference.
While the audience listened intently, Pence received little applause beyond the warm reception he received when he declared his support for NATO.
Pence also said Russia must honor the Minsk peace accords and deescalate violence in eastern Ukraine.
"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.
Mattis warns of 'arc of instability' on Europe's edge
Pence warned allies they must pay their fair share to support NATO, noting many lack "a clear or credible path" to do so. He employed a tougher tone than Trump's Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who delivered a similar but more nuanced message to NATO allies in Brussels this week, diplomats said.
Mattis warned of an "arc of instability" on Europe's periphery and told nervous allies that the United States would stand with NATO partners to confront shared threats.
Mattis said the United States and its European allies had a shared understanding of the challenges ahead.
"We all see our community of nations under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on NATO's periphery and beyond," said Mattis, a retired Marine general.
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite singled out Russia as the main threat, although they also said the West needed to talk to Moscow.
In that vein, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich, seeing progress on encouraging Moscow to be more open about its military exercises that the alliance says are unpredictable.
Russia says it is the Western alliance, not Moscow, that is destabilizing Europe by sending troops to its western borders.
"We have different views," Stoltenberg said of the crisis in Ukraine, where the West accuses the Kremlin of arming separatist rebels in a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since April 2014. Russia says the conflict is a civil war.