Vice President Mike Pence told Munich conference attendees that the Trump administration was “unwavering” in its commitment to NATO, but he didn’t dispel doubts with his tough talk on Saturday. (The Guardian)
Somewhere amid the reports out of Melbourne, Florida and, well, Sweden, many Americans were aware of what President Trump was up to this weekend. But how about his deputy?
No, not “chief strategist” and “senior counselor” Steve Bannon; it remains unclear where he actually ranks in the administration pecking order, although it’s definitely above the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Rather, it’s Trump’s officially accredited second fiddle, Vice President Mike Pence, whose recent movements are under examination. Since Pence was the one doing the diplomatic heavy lifting in the run-up to President’s Day (basking in the exaltation of Floridian fans, at least one of whom prays daily before one’s cardboard likeness, doesn’t count), and since Americans can bet that Pence’s future duties will include more of this sort of thing, it’s probably a good idea to watch him closely. At least in between news alerts about an alleged national security emergency in Sweden on Friday night that didn’t actually happen, even if the president thought that Fox News maybe said something about one happening, although the Swedes were pretty clear that nothing happened.
Sweden’s former Prime Minister Carl Bildt and members of the Embassy of Sweden in the United States spelled out as much on Twitter:
Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. https://t.co/XWgw8Fz7tj
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) February 19, 2017
We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies. https://t.co/x5G3euOWRh
— Embassy of Sweden US (@SwedeninUSA) February 19, 2017
Pence’s slate was replete with meetings involving various European dignitaries, and also Bono, who shared concerns about the role the current U.S. leadership was planning to play vis-a-vis the future of their home continent. On Saturday, Pence convened with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders at the Munich Security Conference, where he fielded questions about regionally critical topics like the Trump White House’s relationship with Russia and attitude toward NATO.
The Associated Press reported Saturday about Pence’s first go-round at the Munich power huddle (via the Chicago Tribune):
In his overseas debut as vice president, Pence told foreign diplomats and security officials attending the Munich Security Conference that the U.S. would be “unwavering” in its commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance and Trump would “stand with Europe.” He pointed to their shared “noble ideals — freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.”
Addressing violence in Ukraine, Pence 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. He did not mention findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election to help Trump win the White House.
“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.
Pence’s address and a series of one-on-one meetings with world leaders along the sidelines here sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression, including its annexation of Crimea. Many have been alarmed by Trump’s positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pence’s speech aimed to reassure international partners who worry that Trump may pursue isolationist tendencies.
After his speech, Pence met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called for the maintenance of international alliances and told the audience, with Pence seated nearby, that NATO is “in the American interest.”
Despite that show of interest, Pence reminded conference-goers that his loyalties ultimately lay with his boss by delivering a knuckle-rapping address in which he told European officials to “do more” to keep up their end of the NATO deal:
Pence’s words “left some of his European allies confused and alarmed,” according to The Guardian.
As for Bono, the U2 frontman opted to map out common ground with Pence (while fellow Munich attendee Sen. John McCain, in a speech on Friday, did not) by praising his efforts to combat AIDS in Africa (YouTube via Rolling Stone):
Pence traveled to Brussels on Sunday evening for more face time with NATO and European Union representatives. Earlier that day, he paid a visit to Dachau, the concentration camp at which more than 200,000 prisoners, including thousands of Jewish people, were victimized during the Holocaust.