US will hold Russia accountable over Ukraine while searching for common ground – Pence
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence said, “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.”
In his first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, Pence issued a hardline statement, saying the US would demand that Moscow “honors the Minsk agreement, beginning by deescalating the violence in eastern Ukraine.” The US and its European allies have been claiming that Moscow is backing the rebel movement in eastern Ukraine against the post-coup Kiev government.
Pence praised NATO's new military deployments in Poland and the Baltic states in the wake of what he called “Russia's efforts to redraw international borders by force,” in an apparent reference to the 2014 reunification with Crimea.
Pence's statement drew an immediate reaction from the head of Russia’s upper house Committee for International Relations. It's not an “appropriate assessment of the situation in southeastern Ukraine, and adds no value to the peace process,” Konstantin Kosachev told the media.
“Mr Pence mentioned Russia twice, but one time in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, just repeating the ‘annexation of Crimea’ position and laying the responsibility for the implementation of the Minsk agreements purely on Russia – which is a dead end, it does not lead us anywhere,” Kosachev later told RT at the Munich Security Conference.
“And [the second time] through his repetition of the position of Mr Trump which we heard before, which is that America is ready to normalize relations with Russia, does not lead us anywhere either because it does not contain any further concrete proposals.”
Kosachev said he was still optimistic about the future of relations between Russia and the West.
“In any case, the atmosphere in general this time is slightly different. It is not hostile as it was in previous years towards Russia. I would not call it a friendly one, but at least we have many people here who are ready to listen to us and talk to us, which is good news.”
US will make sure Iran never gets nukes
Pence claimed the easing of nuclear-related sanctions has given Iran more freedom to threaten the region.
"Under President Trump, the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel," he said.
Pence referred to Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terrorism,” and slammed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed in July 2015 for allowing Tehran to devote more resources to “destabilize the Middle East.”
Donald Trump has used stronger rhetoric against Iran than his predecessor, Barack Obama, putting the country “on notice” after a recent ballistic missile test. Iran’s missile program has come under particular scrutiny from Trump, who has described it as a threat to America and its allies, as well as calling the Iran nuclear deal a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
Trump also appears to have aligned himself with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in several aspects of his Middle Eastern policy, including what seems to be a shared outlook on Iran.
“They [Iran] want to have [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach your country. That’s what they’re working on right now. Remember, you’re the Great Satan [to them],” Netanyahu told Fox News on Friday after a meeting with Trump. “They believe that they’re destined to govern the world. Anybody that doesn’t agree with them, they’ll be able to subjugate or kill, and they’re working on the means to achieve that.”
Iran was also among the seven predominantly Muslim countries affected by Trump’s controversial travel ban.
We'll stay committed, but Europe must do more
In his first overseas trip as vice president, Pence looked to ease tensions with long standing European partners by stating that the US would "stand with Europe today and every day."
The vice president stressed that “The United States is and will always be your greatest ally,” and that it “strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in its commitment to the alliance.”
President Trump “will stand with Europe,” he added.
However, on the issue of NATO contributions, Pence said that European countries were “failing to pay their fair share” when it comes to defense, which he said “erodes the foundation of our alliance.”
“The time has come to do more,” he said, pointing out that apart from the US, only four NATO countries had met a commitment made in 2014 to spend two percent of GDP on defense.
“We will meet our obligations to our people to provide for the common defense and will continue to do our part to support our allies in EU and in NATO.”
“But Europe’s defense requires your commitment as well as ours,” Pence warned.
He said the promise to share the burden “has gone unfulfilled for too many, for too long," which he said “erodes the very foundation of our alliance” and “undermines our ability to come to each other’s aid.”
During his election campaign, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and complained about the US paying “a disproportionate share of the cost.” The US president has since tempered his language on the military alliance.
Further allying fears among EU leaders, Pence said that the president expects US allies to keep to their word and fulfill spending commitments.
“We must shoulder this responsibility together,” he added. “The dangers we face are growing and changing every day."