U.S. has ‘unwavering’ commitment to NATO, Pence says

U.S. has ‘unwavering’ commitment to NATO, Pence says

February 18, 2017 at 5:05 PM EST
At an annual security conference in Munich, Germany, today, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. commitment to NATO is “unwavering.” Pence also said that the U.S. would hold Russia accountable and that the country must honor a 2015 peace deal to end violence in Ukraine. James Jeffrey of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has served as deputy national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, joins Hari Sreenivasan.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  For more perspective on the U.S./Russia relationship and the role of NATO, I am joined from Munich by James Jeffrey, who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations as U.S. ambassador to Turkey and to Iraq, and as deputy national security adviser.  He’s now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

So, Ambassador Jeffrey, why are European leaders unsettled with President Trump?  Why were today’s reassurances necessary?

JAMES JEFFREY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY:  They were necessary because of things that the president said during the campaign against NATO, possibly forming some sort of alliance with the Russians, and basically, calling into question the validity of underlying values that everybody we say in the West, the Atlantic community, shares.  This made people very nervous because here in Europe, this is like a civic religion for the political class and much of the population, and it’s the anecdote to half a century of devastating war and totalitarian regimes that they experienced in the early 20th century.

So, they were really frightened when they heard this, and that’s why the effort over the weekend to clear things up with Washington.

SREENIVASAN:  Do they believe that what Vice President Pence has said, or Defense Secretary Mattis has said, is the last word, that they can trust that’s the U.S. foreign policy?

JEFFREY:  The Europeans will never be completely satisfied or completely reassured ever with America, and particularly now because Donald Trump is such a different president and such a problematic president for Europeans.

But if the president wants to point to a well-oiled element of his administration machine, it’s the efforts by Vice President Pence, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Kelly, Secretary Mattis here in Germany over the weekend.  They hit every worry that the Europeans had, and they gave all kinds of assurances, not coming from them, but particularly the vice president said again and again, “This is what Donald Trump believes, that NATO is really important, that Russia will have to account for its actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

This is exactly what they wanted to hear.  We’ll see whether they believe it.

SREENIVASAN:  Europe is also at a crossroads right now.  We all remember that the United Kingdom decided to depart the E.U., the Brexit event.  We’ve got a rise of the far right.  We’ve got several important elections coming up.  And then there’s, also, this — I think this tone that perhaps the United States and Russia will be more closely allied, which changes the balance of power there.

JEFFREY:  It started with the great economic crash of 2008, which ironically, hurt Europe far more than it did the United States and they have not yet recovered.  Combined with that is this huge refugee flow from the Middle East, and the set of terrorist attacks against Germany, against France, against Belgium.  This has them unsettled, nervous.  They’re questioning their future.  Brexit, the British decision to leave, was a terrible blow.

And so, on top of this, the Trump administration, they were really rattled.  They’re less rattled now, and that’s a good thing.

SREENIVASAN:  Speaking of the refugee situation, President Trump has been very critical of Germany’s policy.  He calls it an open door policy, and he in response has got a travel ban for the United States.  Now, there are some plans the travel ban will come back in a different form to address some of the concerns of 9th Circuit.

How is that sitting with the European community?

JEFFREY:  There are many, many people in Europe who think exactly the way Donald Trump thinks about Angela Merkel’s decision to let in a million refugees, in many cases without any screening whatsoever.  That doesn’t mean that the initial travel ban that the U.S. government imposed was a wise thing.  There’s nothing Merkel can do to really reverse the damage she has done to her party, to her reputation, and to European solidarity with that decision.  In a way, Donald Trump is just saying what many people here believe.

SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Ambassador James Jeffrey from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, joining us from Germany tonight — thanks so much.

JEFFREY:  Thank you.