Pence vows Trump 'strongly committed' to EuropeMonday, February 20, 2017
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — US Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure nervous Europeans Monday of Donald Trump's strong commitment to transatlantic ties as he met EU chiefs amid anti-Trump protests.
Capping a European trip aimed at allaying EU fears the new US president might abandon them, Pence said Washington's support remained "steadfast and enduring".
"Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union," Pence said after talks with EU president Donald Tusk in Brussels.
Pence pledged the United States would keep working with Europe to boost the world's two biggest economies, fight terrorism and defend eastern EU states against Russian encroachment.
Trump's criticism of NATO as "obsolete", his praise for Britain's decision to leave the EU and prediction that others would follow, plus his apparent tilt to Russian President Vladimir Putin have all unnerved US allies.
Tusk, a former Polish premier, said that Europeans "truly needed" the meeting with Pence and that the 28-nation bloc counted on "wholehearted and unequivocal" US support.
"Too much has happened over the past month in your country and in the EU ... for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be," Tusk said.
Pence also met European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, a former Luxembourg premier, who stressed that the United States "needs a strong united Europe."
Juncker also urged stronger EU unity, adding: "This is not a moment for Europe to divide itself in former national, provincial categories."
Scores of protesters gathered outside EU headquarters during Pence's visit, criticising the Trump administration's attitude toward women, gays and climate change.
"We are here to protest against the visit of Pence because we are revolted by the decision of the US administration to undermine women's rights worldwide," Irene Donadio, who works for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told AFP.
Two female protesters went topless and carried banners saying "Pence get out of our pants" while another placard read "Love Trumps Hate".
Tight security surrounded the EU quarter of the Belgian capital during his visit.
Pence's visit comes two days after Trump referred during a rally in Florida to a non-existent Swedish terror incident and urged people to "look at what's happening in Brussels" as he listed a series of European cities struck by deadly terror attacks.
Pence said the United States would remain "full partners" with the EU in fighting terrorism, a key Trump policy.
He also pledged the US "must stand strong in defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations in Europe" including in the Baltics, through recent NATO deployments of troop reinforcements to these countries.
As he did during the Munich Security Conference at the weekend, Pence said the Trump administration will "continue to hold Russia accountable" for the violence in eastern Ukraine and demand that Moscow honour the Minsk agreements for a ceasefire due to begin Monday.
Tusk meanwhile took a swipe at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's call in Munich for an end to a world order dominated by the West.
"The reports of the death of the West have been greatly exaggerated," Tusk said.
Pence also met EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, saying with her that he wanted to "explore ways we can deepen our relationship."
He will later meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
During his trip to Munich, Pence said that the US commitment to the military alliance formed in the depths of the Cold War was "unwavering" despite Trump's previous comments.
After the vice president's arrival in Brussels on Sunday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel urged Pence to support the EU's preservation.
Pence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have stuck close to established policy during their first foray into Europe despite Trump's previous pronouncements.
Trump welcomed Brexit and appeared to voice hope that other EU states would follow suit.
In return, Juncker and Tusk have previously expressed concerns about Trump.
Juncker has called Trump's campaign "absolutely disgusting" and told TIME magazine last week that Trump's remarks on the EU were "highly unfriendly and not helpful at all."